CFR 1907 Cluj are closing in on a second domestic double as the Romanian season enters its final stretch, although several sides will hope they slip up at relegation-haunted FC Astra Ploieşti on Friday.
The Railway Boys meet SC Vaslui in the Cupei României final on 26 May, aiming to take the trophy for the third successive season, and they are six points clear of second-placed FC Unirea Urziceni with five Liga I games remaining. Beat Astra and then Vaslui in the league on 6 May, and the title starts to look a racing certainty for Cluj.
In this most even of seasons, CFR have hardly stood head and shoulders above their rivals, but they have proved adept at doing just enough. They have lost only one of their last 12 games, with all but one of their seven wins in that sequence being by a single goal.
Perhaps the most notable of those victories was Saturday's 3-2 success against rock-bottom FC Unirea Alba Iulia. Forward Cristian Bud scored the hosts' three goals yet had to wait until the last minute for his clinching strike, to the relief of coach Andrea Mandorlini. "The three points against Alba Iulia were hugely important," said the Italian. "
Titles are won against the so-called small teams, but nothing is certain until the last minute of the season."
Former FC Internazionale Milano player Mandorlini, 49, has continued the upward curve that began when CFR were promoted to the top flight in 2004. Since then, league finishes improved year upon year, culminating in the 2007/08 double. And though they were fourth last term, the Romanian Cup and Super Cup brought consolation.
Now unbeaten in nine outings, CFR know better than to start planning their championship party. "Until it is mathematically certain, anything can happen and we might even lose the title," said Bud. "We don't have five matches left but five finals. There are no big or small teams so we have to be very careful with Astra this week."
Whichever club comes top is guaranteed a UEFA Champions League group stage berth, giving CFR all the more incentive; the runners-up go into the third qualifying round. The teams placed third to sixth will enter UEFA Europa League qualifying, and, with a solitary point separating the sides in second to sixth, CFR can ill afford to get sucked into the scrum.
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