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Capital clubs chasing title dream

Published: Friday 12 March 2004, 12.00CET
The Romanian season finally resumes on Friday night with Bucharest teams likely to dominate yet again.

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Published: Friday 12 March 2004, 12.00CET

Capital clubs chasing title dream

The Romanian season finally resumes on Friday night with Bucharest teams likely to dominate yet again.
The second half of the Romanian season finally gets under way this evening with the three Bucharest clubs again the teams to beat in the first division.

Delayed start
After last week's postponement of the 16th round because of poor weather, four teams will play tonight, followed by five fixtures on Saturday and the last match of the weekend on Sunday. In truth, the weather in Romania has improved little but the fixtures are all set to go ahead.

Capital class
Not since 1991, when FC Universitatea Craiova lifted the trophy, has a team from outside the capital won the championship. Indeed, in the last 25 years, only Universitatea (three times) and FC Arges-Dacia Pitesti (once) have stopped one of the Bucharest sides going all the way.

Tight at top
It is set to be a familiar story this season, although the race could go down to the wire on 3 June. FC Dinamo Bucuresti and FC Steaua Bucuresti are joint-top on 32 points, with reigning champions AFC Rapid Bucuresti just three points behind. The next closest team are Universitatea, a further six points adrift in fourth.

Trio depart
Despite being top and having the best goalscoring record, Dinamo have been considerably weakened over the winter. The side lost three internationals in Flavius Stoican, Ciprian Marica and Ianis Zicu, while Belgian goalkeeper Grégory Delwarte has returned to his homeland. Replacing them are goalkeeper Vladimir Gaev, midfield player Leonard Naidin and striker Claudiu Dragan but whether they can fill the gaps remains to be seen.

Munteanu back
Steaua have fared better with veteran Dorinel Munteanu, capped 119 times, returning from German football at the age of 36 after eleven years abroad. His arrival should prove invaluable to the club, along with the acquisition of Arges striker Nicolae Dica to replace Claudiu Raducanu, who has moved to RCD Espanyol.

Petrescu in charge
Rapid have been going through major upheavals. Former Romania defender Dan Petrescu has assumed coaching responsibilities while Ioan Becali is the new club president. There have been changes to the playing personnel as well, with 21-year-old international defenders Ionut Rada and Ionut Stancu the key signings, both having left Universitatea. They will help to cover the loss of the highly regarded Adrian Iencsi, who this week departed for FC Spartak Moskva.

Under threat
At the other end of the table, competition is likely to be as fierce. There is only a seven-point gap between sixth-placed CS Otelulu and bottom club FC Petrolul Ploiesti and, with three teams set to be relegated this season, at least ten sides are still at risk of the drop.

Possible lifeline
However, the Romanian Football Federation could still throw the strugglers a lifeline. On 15 March, it is meeting to decide whether to increase the top flight from 16 to 18 clubs next season, which would mean only the team in last place would be demoted at the end of this campaign.

Last updated: 12/03/04 16.49CET

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