Casual observers of the Romanian game will have noticed that something odd has been happening in the last couple of seasons. The traditional dominance of the three giants from the capital has come to an abrupt end – and there is no sign that FC Steaua Bucureşti, FC Rapid Bucureşti and FC Dinamo 1948 Bucureşti will be resuming their reign when the new Liga 1 campaign begins on Friday.
Super Cup first
Only once between 1981 and 2007 did a season end without one of that leading trio clinching either the league title or the Romanian Cup, but all were swept aside when CFR 1907 Cluj completed the double in 2007/08. CFR then retained the cup last term, while AFC Unirea Urziceni pipped FC Timişoara to the Liga 1 crown, prompting the first Romanian Super Cup to be contested between two non-Bucharest clubs earlier this week.
CFR edged that encounter on penalties and the two teams will meet again on Saturday, guaranteeing a high-profile start to a season that already promises to be dramatic. Last year's title race came to a thrilling climax, with the championship and European issues being decided on the final day, and everything suggests this year will be equally rewarding as Unirea, Timişoara, Dinamo, CFR, Steaua, SC Vaslui and Rapid all look to be serious contenders in the 18-team league.
Titleholders Unirea are certainly expecting a difficult campaign, and like their rivals have been restricted in their transfer dealings by the global economic crisis. Signing Rapid captain Vasile Maftei for €400,000 has been their one significant purchase, though former Steaua stalwart Sorin Paraschiv has also joined on a free transfer from Rimini Calcio as the club prepare for their UEFA Champions League group-stage debut. "Last season, we didn't start so well but came back afterwards," explained coach Dan Petrescu. "It's the same now. I think that only after three or four rounds will we be playing at our real level, and the championship is long."
Previous big spenders CFR have laid out only €100,000, meanwhile, while Dinamo and Steaua, third and a distant sixth respectively last season, have not paid any fees at all. The former have suffered a string of pre-season friendly defeats as well, but new coach Dario Bonetti remains optimistic about the months ahead. "I'm satisfied with the team, despite the results, and in the championship things will be different," he said. "The players understood and realise why they lost the title and they are keen to avenge this loss."
For their part, Steaua have brought in two foreign players in the shape of Polish international midfielder Rafal Grzelak and once-capped Bulgarian forward Krum Bibishkov, while welcoming Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu and forward Romeo Surdu back from loans. Timişoara have boosted their own prospects by capturing Romanian international midfielder Alexandru Bourceanu from FC Otelul Galati for €700,000 and FC Gloria Buzau forward Claudiu Ionescu, while Vaslui have strengthened their attack with Willian Gerlem and Constantin Gângioveanu.
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