Europa League: The best Steaua Bucharest side since 1989 should be feared by Chelsea

While a 1-0 lead may seem a slight inconvenience to a team as talented as Chelsea this Steaua side should not be under-rated. We take a look at the history of one of Europe's proudest clubs.

For many of us the name Steaua Bucharest would not fill us with dread. A Romanian side who have failed to lift their national title for five years they finished third last season behind CFR Cluj and city rivals Dinamo.

Of course if you are to look back in time there was certainly a period when the name Steaua would have put lumps in the throats (and pants) of any team in the world; including todays Chelsea side.

In the late 80’s the side were clearly one of the best teams in European football.

It was 1986 when the side first made it to a European Cup final. After overcoming the likes of Anderlecht and FC Lahti they faced Barcelona in the final. Much like Chelsea were in the game with Bayern Munich last season they went into the finale as the underdogs; but prevailed on penalties.

Now the clubs president it was Helmut Duckadam who was the hero that night; saving all four of Barca’s spot-kicks in a 2-0 penalty shootout victory.

The following season they were dumped out in the second round by Anderlecht and the idea of another run in Europe seemed dead in the pan; until they signed a young man by the name of Gheorge Hagi from Sportul in 1987.

The following season he led the side to the semi-finals and then the next year made the final again where they were beaten by an AC Milan side containing the likes of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.

A Steaua side packed full of talented players such as Hagi, Ilie Dumitrescu and Gavril Balint could not force a result.

Afterwards the side diminished. With the end of the reign of oppressive Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu the players of Steaua finally felt free to leave their country and play in pastures new.

Previously the likes of elegant defender Miodrag Belodedici had to sneak out of the country and play secretly under false names or without legal contracts at teams such as Red Star Belgrade.

When Gheorge Hagi left for Real Madrid it truly spelt the end of their time as European giants.

Since that final in 1989 they have never advanced beyond the Group Stage of the Champions League.

This seasons Europa League started poorly with defeat to Slovakian outfit Spartak Trnava but they have since pushed on; overcoming the likes of Stuttgart, Copenhagen and Ajax to meet Chelsea in the round of 16.

Now their new batch of Romanian stars such as Vlad Chiriches, Raul Rucescu and Cristian Tanase are leading a charge on London; bringing with them a narrow 1-0 lead from the first leg.

Their league form is superb. The choppy nature of Romanian football has seen teams come and go with heavy financing and subsequent liquidation in recent years. Unirea Urziceni, FC Timisoara and Arges Pitesti have all tried to buy sustainable success and paid the ultimate price. Meanwhile The Army Men have stood their ground.

They now sit top of Liga I; 12 points ahead of their nearest rivals Astra Giurgiu and Pandurrii Tagu Jiu in second and third respectively with their city rivals, Dinamo and Rapid, and recent protagonists Cluj eating their dust in mid-table obscurity.

A quarter-final in European competition would just be the icing on the cake; so Chelsea should beware the spirit of 86 biting back at Stamford Bridge.

image: © samlkelly

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