Romania is taking a deep breath as the domestic season resumes at the weekend, with CFR 1907 Cluj, FC Unirea Urziceni and FC Steaua Bucureşti level at the top of the standings.
Cluj, Unirea and Steaua share top billing with 34 points, but FC Timişoara and FC Rapid Bucureşti are just three points behind them, with sixth-placed SC Vaslui on 30. FC Brasov and FC Dinamo 1948 Bucureşti cannot be ruled out of the title race either, with 27 points apiece. Whatever happens, with eight teams fighting for six European places (Dinamo, Vaslui, Brasov and CFR also have the chance to qualify for the UEFA Europa League as the four remaining sides in the Romanian Cup), two sides will end up disappointed.
Champions Unirea have had a challenging winter. With coach Dan Petrescu moving to Russia to join FC Kuban Krasnodar, the club have been losing players despite the financial benefits of playing in the UEFA Champions League group stage. Dacian Varga and Tiberiu Balan returned to FC Sportul Studentesc Bucureşti once their loans expired, while forward Cristian Dănălache and the reserve goalkeeper Daniel Tudor moved abroad.
Meanwhile, Dinamo's winter trading amounted to Gabriel Tamaş joining West Bromwich Albion FC while Andrei Mărgăritescu returned from FC Terek Grozny. Rapid loaned their former defender Cristian Săpunaru back from FC Porto and signed Latvia Under-21 striker Edgars Gauračs from FK Ventspils, while city rivals Steaua lost captain Sorin Ghionea and fellow central defender Ionuş Rada, but signed FC Timişoara's Karamyan brothers and Cypriot defender Stelios Parpas.
Vaslui and CFR made the most dramatic acquisitions. On a mission to secure European football, Vaslui brought in right-back Zhivko Milanov from PFC Levski Sofia, Brazilian star Gladstone, memorably named Honduras striker Carlo Costly and CF Gloria 1922 Bistriţa playmaker Lucian Sanmartean. CFR meanwhile let Nuno Claro, Bogdan Mara, Nelson Cabrera, Didi and Sebastián Dubarbier go but signed Italians Felice Piccolo and Roberto De Zerbi, English-born winger Kasali Yinka Casal and brought Romania midfielder Nicolae Dică back from Iraklis FC.
Finally, Timişoara lost top scorer Gheorghe Bucur to Kuban as well as shedding the Karamyan brothers and the Slovakian international Balász Borbély to AEL Limassol FC. The club lured right-back Cosmin Contra back to his home town after almost five years at Getafe CF, while another former exile, László Sepsi, returned from Real Racing Club. They also have high hopes for ŠK Slovan Bratislava playmaker Ján Kozák and the Portuguese defender Tiago Costa.
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