Rapid Bucharest stunned an entire Europe with their performance from that year. In the 2004-2005 they finished third in the first league, place that gave them the opportunity to take part of next year’s UEFA Cup. After a year of non-participation in the continental competitions, they didn’t look like having too many chances to accede in the superior rounds.
After knocking out Saint Julia and Vardar Skopje in the preliminary rounds, Feyenoord Rotterdam was theirs next opponent. Luckily for Rapid, the first match was supposed to be held in the Dutch city, and supporters would not be allowed to came and encourage Feyenoord. UEFA punished the team from Holland, after their fans caused serious problems in previous European matches. So, Rapid took its’ chance and held a 1-1 draw that proved to be decisive.
Mugurel Buga scored the only goal of the second leg, and the Romanian squad made it through the group stage. Here, Rapid played the first match on Valentin Stănescu Stadium, and beat French side Rennes, 2-0. Daniel Niculae and again Buga, made the fans happy and gave their team a lot of enthusiasm for the next games. After Măldărășanu’s goal at Donețsk, Rapid achieved six points and become favourite, to qualify in the superior stages. Not only will they go through but they will even win the group. Another victory, this time over PAOK Thessaloniki, permitted the team from Bucharest to gether nine points. The defeat in the match against Stuttgart wasn’t important at all.
In the round of last 32nd, Rapid would eventually face Hertha Berlin. The first match was supposed to take place in the capital city of Germany, but still, Hertha was favourite. In front of 60.000, on the Olympic Stadium, Rapid scored a second half penalty goal. And all thanks to Vali Negru, that proved to have a lot of self-control. 1-0 was the final result and it looked like a great game was about to take place in Giulești. Rapid won this time as well. 2-0 and they were through.
Now, a more powerful German team would stay in their way: SV Hamburger. Former Champions’ of Europe would come to play on the Valentin Stănescu field, after a stunning 2-1 victory on the pitch of Bayern Munchen. But Rapid didn’t look intimidated at all. Two amazing goals from Niculae and Buga, bring another 2-0 victory for the Romanian squad. It was the third result with this score, that they had achieve in 2005-2006 season, and the same two strikers put their names on the scoring board. After Rennes and Hertha, Hamburg was another victim.
Things didn’t look so god for Rapid in the second leg, as the German team managed to score two goals that put them level. Now, the Romanians had to attack. And so they did when Buga made it 1-2. The qualifying point was in Rapid’s pocket now. Even though Hamburg scored another goal and had many other chances, the 3-1 score permitted Rapid to move between the first eight teams of the UEFA Cup.
Here, as a shock for everyone, a double match against Steaua was about to be played. The first ever challenge between two Romanian teams, in a European competition. Rapid would not lose any of the games, but on away goal rule, the great rivals from Bucharest made it in the semifinals. It was one of the saddest days ever for the fans of Rapid. As it says, this story stopped more surprisingly that it started, but the big performance remained.
Although they did not qualify in the semifinal, Rapid reached the 5th place in the IFHHS table, the best in all Romanian teams’ history. This made sense, because the squad from Giulești won a 10 games from a total of 16 and lost only two. More than that, on home ground they did not recieve a single goal untill the quarter final against Steaua. That was the only one. Unfortunately, it was enough to put out Rapid…