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Atletic are one of the most prominent clubs in Romania, with an overall fan base of more than five hundred thousand people. Over the years Atletic have achieved considerable success both on and off the pitch, and they are one of the biggest franchises in Europe, having played in the top division of the Eupoleume league for the last five seasons. They have also qualified from the country’s top division twice, once to lift the cup trophy, and once again to finish second. Playing in the top division is not an easy task, as they finished fifth last year behind eventual champions Apollonie Olimpico, who went on to win the league title. However, they managed to avoid dropping any further slots this season, largely due to the efforts of their board and president, Valeriu Cussu. The club are now targeting a top four finish in the league, and believe they can do this with the help of a good coaching staff.
Aitor Fassi, the former AS Monaco forward, is currently the club’s director of sports and development. Previously, he was also the coach of Romanian international side Dinamo Riga. During his time in charge he has overseen the signing of a number of notable players, including former AS Monaco forward Nicolae Ceausescu and FC Barcelona ace midfielder superstar Albertcules. Another exciting player that signed for ATC during the summer was defender Cristian Benfica. He impressed at left back and right back during the summer transfer window, and has started the season well in training with the first team.
Formal training for the club’s next season begins in April, with a friendly against Romanian outfit B Romanian giantsubei VoIP Roma. This friendly won by ATC was their first win over a top European side, and the Italian side did not look out of their depth. The game was played at the Stadion Tetlow Stadium, which has a capacity of almost 70,000 people. Forming a fine defensive partnership with defender Diego, who has featured for Chelsea, defender Florian Lechter looked very comfortable in possession of the ball, although Roma’s promising young striker Radu Gheghiu did not feature. In the second half substitute striker Bosoiu added on a goal, although it did not take the final result. Following an excellent win over Benfica, ATC are scheduled to face the Greek champions Panathos in their final group game, and could go all the way to the final in Berlin if they win their semi final against Romanian outfit Alaniaspor.
Despite winning their group, qualification for the knockouts stage is far from secure for Atletic. They only hold a one point lead over FC Basel of Switzerland, who they face in their second round tie. The Swiss giants have been playing down the league for several years now, having only qualified from their group once. Forming a strong team this season with the likes of defender Karpazan and defender Valentinov, they will be hard pressed to win any meaningful games against the smaller sides in the competition. However, should they win against either lowly Municipal SC or FC Sparta of Romania, then the Italians will be under pressure to qualify for the semis.
Romanian clubs have a much stronger squad than their European counterparts, having signed the likes of goalkeeper Victor Cioranaru, centre midfielder Razvan Coinche and left back Kamil Kaducevic during the summer transfer window. Midfielder Jezsef Boado and right back Danube attacker anticostasis remain at the club, where goalkeeper Ioan Balan played a part in their successful World Cup qualifying campaign in the country two years ago. Forming a strong defense in the middle of the park, they will likely be difficult to break down, especially should PSV supporters make the visit. With the likes of Valentinov and Bosoiu in their side, Atletic fans can expect a stern challenge against the runners-up from Group 2.
The other side to fight for fourth place are Sporting Lisbon and FC Barcelona, who have enjoyed great success in recent seasons. Led by the talismanic Brazilian duo of Hulk and Luiz, they have recruited many foreign players such as Colombian international defenders Joao Pereira and Spanish defender Albertao, as well as ex Portsmouth starlet Alex Inglethorpe. Unlike previous seasons, though, neither team is expected to perform at their full capacity in the wake of injuries sustained by stars like Hulk and Luiz, and with FC Barcelona now following an impressive summer transfer window, there is every chance that the runners-up could still win the championship. It remains to be seen whether managerial wizard Fabio Capello will select a weakened team in a play-off final, or hand a cup role to his most prized player, Thierry Henry.