BERN, Switzerland – It should be no surprise that a man with the nickname "Satan" held no fear of Euro 2008's Group of Death.
Romania coach Victor Piturca is a strange and mysterious character. That much is beyond dispute.
What some of Europe's toughest football nations are now discovering is that he is also an astute tactician capable of devising a master plan to frustrate supposedly superior opponents.
But more on that later. You want to know about Satan, right?
The devilish nickname comes from the 52-year-old's propensity to dress entirely in black, and he has embraced the moniker wholeheartedly as evidenced by his car's license plate number (you guessed it, 666). Piturca admits the persona gives him an identity and profile he may otherwise have lacked.
"It is what people call me," he said of his nickname. "I can't do anything about it and it doesn't bother me. It gives people something to talk about.
"I suppose as names go, it is quite a remarkable one."
It suits him, too. While friends insist Piturca is generally a good-natured, if frequently moody, man, there are dark moments in his past that have surely shaped his gruff, unsmiling demeanor.
In December 1978, Piturca's cousin Florin Petre, a footballer in the Romanian second division, died suddenly in his home hours after a game. Members of Petre's family claim that his death was caused by being one of many lower-level soccer players forced to test illegal performance-enhancing drugs before they were passed on to the elite stars of the Romanian sporting system.
In the days of the Communist Ceausescu regime, there could be no thought of questioning officialdom, however. The family was left with suspicion, tragedy and heartbreak.
Piturca was perhaps even more deeply affected by the emotive events that followed Petre's passing than his cousin's death itself.
Petre's father (and Piturca's uncle) Maximilian was so distraught that, despite his modest income as a cobbler, he built an elaborate mausoleum for Florin to be buried in. For 16 years, Maximilian slept every night in the mausoleum alongside his son's body, even when beset by the heart problems that would eventually take his life.
During this time, Piturca rose through the ranks as a player, driving himself on with a remorselessness that eventually established him as the leading striker at Romania's Steaua Bucharest. The most powerful club in the country, Steaua was regularly a threat in European competitions and won the European Cup on penalties against Barcelona in 1986.
But on a professional level, Piturca learned that life is not always just – even in post-communist Romania.
By rights, his first Euro finals as coach should have come eight years earlier after he led the team to a successful qualifying campaign. His refusal to back down in a dispute with Romania's favorite soccer son, aging star Gheorghe Hagi, meant the country's football hierarchy wielded the axe mercilessly with Piturca being a casualty.
He would return in 2004, and although Romania's bid to qualify for the World Cup two years later was unsuccessful, this tournament is the culmination of the plan Piturca has implemented. His philosophy is built on realism.
"There is no point in trying to make my players believe they are better than they really are," he said ahead of Romania's match against Holland on Tuesday in Group C's final round of games.
Even though Adrian Mutu missed a late penalty in a 1-1 draw that would have eliminated Italy, the Romanians have much to be excited about. If France and Italy draw in Zurich on Tuesday night, then a point in Bern would be enough for the Eastern European nation to reach the quarterfinals, where a likely showdown with Spain would beckon.
A mutual respect exists between Piturca and his players, but a dash of fear also drives the team. After all, who would want to upset Satan?
"We believe in the coach and his tactics," Mutu said. "He trusts us to put his tactics into place on the field."