Founded in 1921, Astra Giurgiu were formerly known as Astra Ploiesti, until they moved further south to the town of Giurgiu on the Romanian/Bulgarian border in 2012.
Recent seasons have been the most successful in the club’s history, and the 2013/14 season was their most successful ever as a football club, with Astra qualifying for the Europa League for the first time, finishing second in the Romanian Liga 1, only behind Steau Bucharest.
Though they beat Steau in the Romanian Cup and Super Cup that year as well.
This is now Astra’s third consecutive season in the Europa league. In their first season, (2013/14) they were knocked out in the qualifying round, in their second, they went one better and made it to the group stages, though they finished bottom after hefty defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and FC Salzburg.
This shouldn’t be too hard of a journey for the travelling West Ham fans, as Giurgiu is fairly close to the capital, Bucharest.
Astra have a fairly modern 8,500 seater-stadium, and in terms of weather, travelling Hammers may want to pack their shorts, as during their last home tie against Inverness, temperatures reached highs of 39 degrees.
Domestically, Astra have had a mixed start to the season, and form wise are W1, D1 and L1, with the loss coming at the hands of early league leaders Targu Mures in the shape of a 1-5 drubbing at home.
They entered the Europa league in the second qualifying round this year, drawing Inverness CT.
They struggled to impose themselves against their Scottish opponents, and a curled free-kick by Consantin Budescu in the first leg away from home was the only goal to separate the two sides over the two matches, with Astra content to play out the 0-0 draw in the second.
Players to Watch
Constantin Budescu is Astra’s talisman and most dangerous player.
The 26-year-old can play as a striker or attacking midfielder, and is always looking to shoot or create chances for others.
He impressed against Inverness last week and was the difference between the two evenly matched sides. He has scored some extremely important goals for Astra in the Europa league in previous seasons, including a brace against Omonia Nicosia, which allowed Astra to progress to the qualifying round in 2013/14.
Overall, Astra are a well-organised and confident side, though with few players of any real stand out quality.
If Slaven decides to play a strong squad, which it looks like he will, we should progress fairly comfortably.
It is extremely important to get a good 2 or 3 goal cushion in this first home leg, though – we do not want to have to send out a strong team or be chasing the game away next week in the blazing heat and with Arsenal a mere four days later!
I was unable to get to the games against FC Lusitans and Birkarkara, and so this will be my first game of this final season at the Boleyn ground, so here’s hoping for a great evening on Thursday night.
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