The title ambitions ahead of the new season seem higher than ever in Romania, with the big sides from Bucharest champing at the bit as they seek to reassert themselves on the First Division.
No capital club has lifted the title since FC Dinamo Bucureşti in 2007. Instead, CFR 1907 Cluj (three times), AFC Unirea Urziceni and FC Oțelul Galați have triumphed, and the league is closing in on a streak from 84 years ago, when there were seven successive champions from outside the capital between 1921/22 and 1927/28.
The three Bucharest powers are clearly keen to break the streak. The 23-time champions and 1986 European Champion Clubs' Cup winners FC Steaua Bucureşti are without a title since 2006, while FC Rapid Bucureşti have not tasted glory since 2003.
Romanian Cup holders Dinamo signalled their intent on Saturday, beating CFR Cluj on penalties to win the domestic Super Cup. Dinamo moved quickly after key players departed and coach Dario Bonetti is in buoyant mood: "Playing with our hearts we can win any match and I'm proud that my players showed the real spirit of a Dinamo player in the Super Cup." George Țucudean, who scored both goals in the 2-2 draw, added: "Two trophies have been won but we want more; we want the title."
Meanwhile, nobody at CFR Cluj has forgotten the difficulties involved in winning the title last term. Indeed, Dinamo were top for most of the campaign before finishing fifth, nine points off the pace, and CFR Cluj ultimately took the title by a single point.
After their Super Cup loss, coach Ioan Andone is under no illusions this season will be easy. "Firstly, we have plenty of work to do if we want to reach the Champions League group stage. We have problems with the defence, that's obvious." They may have their issues, but after some savvy recruiting they remain major players.
Elsewhere Steaua and Rapid both have new coaches, Laurențiu Reghecampf and Ioan Ovidiu Sabău respectively, and both clubs will play an important role in the title race. Steaua have held onto the majority of their squad, though Rapid have made eight signings after the loss of several regulars – including captain Marcos Antônio. Coach Sabău is in optimistic mood: "We have a team which can fight for the title, because only players who want to win trophies can play for Rapid."
But title ambitions are not limited to the holders and the Bucharest outfits. Perhaps the biggest challenge comes from outside the capital. Since being promoted to the first division, FC Vaslui have invested heavily and have been on a continual rise, finishing second last term. Paul Papp and Pavol Farkaš have departed for AC Chievo Verona, but 17 players have arrived alongside a new coach, Marius Șumudică. The clubs have progressed year on year; will they go one step further this time around?
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