Romania will appear at their first major tournament since UEFA EURO 2008 when they head to France next summer, but following the conclusion of their qualifying campaign, minds have been cast further back.
In the first of his three spells as national coach, Anghel Iordănescu oversaw Romania's qualification for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, coming through all of their 1997 fixtures – competitive and friendly – without defeat. Some 18 years on, Romania have once more reached a French finals without losing a qualifier, and – for the first time since 1997 – have survived a calendar year unbeaten.
Iordănescu, 65, was in charge of both those sides, while Viorel Moldovan – who scored six goals in that World Cup qualifying campaign and performed well as Romania got to the round of 16 in France – is now an assistant to the man voted his nation's top coach of the 20th century. However, there the similarities seemingly end.
Romania's record in 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying: W9 D1 L0 F37 A4
Romania's record in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying: W5 D5 L0 F11 A2
Romania's unbeaten run in 1997: W6 D2 L0 F27 A5
Romania's unbeaten run in 2015: W2 D5 L0 F7 A3
The 'Golden Generation' that marched to the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals, followed by the finals of EURO '96, the 1998 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000, could call on a legitimate superstar in former Real Madrid and Barcelona playmaker Gheorghe Hagi, with the supporting cast peppered with players at premier clubs: Dan Petrescu at Chelsea, Adrian Ilie at Valencia, Dorinel Munteanu at Köln, while Moldovan's Coventry were then a top-flight side.
The current team largely play in smaller leagues, with even the biggest names – Napoli defender Vlad Chricheş, Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu and captain Răzvan Raţ – no one's idea of world stars. What the 'Golden Generation' achieved through flamboyance, this latest vintage grind out with iron discipline. Romania had the best defensive record in UEFA EURO 2016 qualification – just two conceded – with ever-present centre-backs Dragoș Grigore and Chiricheș combining with Tătărușanu and left-back Raț to keep things very tight.
Iordănescu's achievement with such a low-key squad may be greater than his higher-profile successes with the 'Golden Generation'. "Iordănescu is a fantastic coach," says forward Claudiu Keșerü. "He knows when and how to speak to every one of us and also how to inspire us to give our best and go beyond the limits."
"We do not have superstar players any more," Iordănescu concedes. "It is difficult to put on a show for people; it is difficult to play super-attacking football when you don't have those players – first-tier players. This time we have managed to qualify through good organisation – a well-structured defence and persevering to attack and create chances." Not pretty, but pretty effective.
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