AGONA Profile: Universitatea Craiova, the dangerous Romanians hoping to shock AEK
The AGONA Profile takes a closer look at CS Universitatea Craiova, the opponents for AEK in the third qualifying round of the 2019/2020 UEFA Europa League.
AEK are considered as favourites to qualify for the playoffs. Nonetheless, if the Kitrinomavri make the foolish mistake of taking Universitatea Craiova lightly, they could be in for a nasty surprise.
Romanian teams must not be underestimated. On a regular basis, the likes of FCSB and CFR Cluj compete in the group stages of UEFA competitions, and the level of the national Liga 1 championship isn’t that bad at all. Collectively, the Super League in Greece is surely stronger, but Romanian clubs are no pushovers whatsoever.
Originally founded in 1948, the football department of Universitatea Craiova was disbanded in 1991, months after the team had won the national championship. Until 2013, the football team was known as FC U Craiova 1948, with that particular club (deemed a completely separate organisation by the authorities) winning the 1993 Romanian Cup and finishing second in the 1994/1995 Liga 1 season. CS Universitatea Craiova, as we know the club now, was ‘reformed’ in 2013 after a number of court procedures. FC U Craiova 1948 currently compete in the lower leagues.
Universitatea Craiova earned promotion back to the Liga 1 in 2014. Three years later, the club returned to continental football for the first time since 1991, losing 0:3 on aggregate to Italian giants AC Milan in the third qualifying round of the Europa League. Craiova then won the Romanian Cup in the same season by defeating Hermannstadt 2:0 in the showpiece match.
Last summer, Universitatea Craiova were also involved in the Europa League, conceding a 2:4 aggregate loss to RB Leipzig. Craiova earned fourth place of the 2018/2019 Liga 1 campaign, 14 points behind champions CFR Cluj in the playoffs.
Unlike AEK, the Romanians have already been playing competitive football this season, defeating Sabail 6:4 in the first qualifying round of the Europa League and Budapest Honved on penalties in the next phase. However, during the second leg against Honved in Craiova, the referee was injured by a flare which was thrown onto the pitch by the fans. It’s expected that the first match in Romania will be played behind closed doors inside the impressive Ion Oblemenco Stadium.
Craiova’s biggest European success is reaching the semi-finals of the 1982/1983 UEFA Cup. In 1984, Craiova met Olympiacos in the second round of the same competition, defeating their Greek opponents 1:0 in both legs to progress. That is the only previous occasion when Craiova played against Hellenic opposition.
Full name: U Craiova 1948 Club Sportiv (Universitatea Craiova for European competitions)
Owner: Mihari Rotaru
Stadium: Ion Oblemenco (Capacity 30,983)
Head coach: Corneliu Papura
Major honours won (as Universitatea Craiova/U Craiova 1948 Club Sportiv): 4 Liga 1 championships, 6 Romanian Cup titles
Corneliu Papura, 45, finished his lengthy playing career in 2007. Interestingly, during his days as a professional footballer, he played in Cyprus with AE Limassol in the 2004/2005 season. He also played in 12 matches for the senior Romanian national team and was on the books of Universitatea Craiova.
Papura, who previously managed Progresul Bucuresti and Olt Slatina, joined Craiova as a coach in 2016 with the youth team. On April 15, 2019 Papura was appointed as the new head coach of the senior Craiova side, subsequently gaining a points-per-game average of 1.92 in 13 matches. Papura often favours a 4-2-3-1 formation with an emphasis on attacking play.
Craiova captain Nicusor Bancu is the soul of this team. Having played for Craiova since the 2014/2015 season, the 26-year-old understands what the club stands for, and he has been a consistent performer on the left side of defence. Alongside his defensive duties, Bancu can be a threat at the other end of the field as well, notably scoring four goals in the 2018/2019 Liga 1 season. Transfermarkt rates his value at 2.5 million euros.
24-year-old midfielder Alexandru Cicaldu, rated at four million by Transfermarkt, is a real threat. Playing in the middle of midfield, Cicaldu is dangerous when bursting forward, boasting the ability to dish out intelligent passes which fool the opponents. In the 2018/2019 Liga 1 campaign, Cicaldu gained seven assists, and he’s already scored once and gained one assist in this year’s Europa League.
Alexandru Matieu is another key player for Craiova in midfield. Now 29 years of age, Matieu has been a Craiova player since the summer of 2014, and he can play either in the middle of midfield or on the right wing. Over the years, Matieu has always been a reliable player for Craiova, regularly playing the full 90 minutes of matches. He has scored once and picked up one assist in the 2019/2020 season so far.