It is hard to say exactly when football was first played in Romania. Some think 1889, others 1893, but the date remains uncertain. Given the fragmented nature of the country and surrounding territories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is no surprise that the majority of the early players were foreign nationals – particularly British and German expatriates.
Romania's first football club was founded in October 1904 by German Charles Viereck – the Olimpia Sport Club. By 1909 three teams were up and running and they formed the Association of Athletic Societies of Romania (ASAR). The next year the ASAR Cup, forerunner to the modern-day Romanian championship, was launched.
After World War One and the unification of all the Romanian provinces, football became more widely and more effectively organised. It was as late as 1932, though, that a national league was established, with the Romanian Cup following in season 1933/34.
Before these developments, the Romanian Football Association Federation (FRFA) had been set up in February 1930 and facilitated the country's participation in the first FIFA World Cup. Twelve months later, at the FIFA Congress in Budapest, the FRFA was admitted as a full FIFA member. With a communist regime in power after World War Two, however, Romanian football's governing body did not have the power to act autonomously and underwent several name changes.
Romania nonetheless became a founder member of UEFA in 1954, albeit by proxy: Romanian delegates due to attend the inaugural congress in Basel did not receive Swiss visas, so had to authorise Czechoslovakia to vote on their behalf. Finally, in July 1957, the Federaţia Română de Fotbal (FRF) was born, although its first elections as an independent organisation had to wait until August 1990. Mircea Sandu became president, a position he holds to this day, making him the longest serving in the country's history.
Romania's national team debuted in June 1922 against Yugoslavia in Belgrade, with the visitors winning 2-1 to lift the King Alexander Cup. Acclaimed playmaker Gheorghe Hagi remains the side's top scorer with 35 goals; of the current players, Adrian Mutu ended 2012 one goal adrift, on 34. Former midfielder Dorinel Munteanu, meanwhile, holds the appearances record of 134 caps.
The team's best performance in a major tournament came at the 1994 World Cup where they reached the quarter-finals, a finish they repeated at the UEFA European Championship in 2000. They also claimed the now-defunct Balkan Cup of Nations six times.
At club level FC Steaua Bucureşti have collected the most silverware, culminating in their victory over FC Barcelona in the 1986 European Champion Clubs' Cup final and an attending UEFA Super Cup success. Steaua, who also lost the European Cup final in 1989, have been Romania's most prominent participants during the UEFA Champions League era – though CFR 1907 Cluj and FC Unirea Urziceni have also taken part in the group phase. Like Steaua, both FC Dinamo Bucureşti and FC Universitatea Craiova are other sides with European semi-finals on the CV.
Nonetheless, despite Steaua, Dinamo and FC Rapid Bucureşti's traditional hegemony, the Bucharest clubs now face much tougher competition from the provinces, with teams such as Cluj, Unirea, SC Vaslui and FC Oţelul Galaţi challenging for honours.
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