FC Steaua Bucuresti claimed the LIGA I runners-up slot as the Romanian season ended on Wednesday - but CFR Ecomax Cluj-Napoca can still feel proud.
With FC Dinamo 1948 Bucuresti having lost interest since winning the title on 5 May, Steaua finished the campaign in white-hot form, their eight straight victories securing second place. The silver medals are more valuable than ever this term, with the runners-up entering the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round while the champions go into the third.
Cluj had to be satisfied with third position and the UEFA Cup second qualifying round. They will rue their 2-1 home defeat by Steaua on 26 April, which in the final reckoning caused them to trail the Bucharest giants by two points. Nonetheless, a crack at the UEFA Cup is still a fair prize. By the time Cluj celebrate their centenary in July, they will be set for their biggest European adventure to date. Their only previous campaign saw them lose to RC Lens in a 2005 UEFA Intertoto Cup final after wins against Lithuania's FK Vetra, Spain's Athletic Club Bilbao, France's AS Saint-Etienne and another Lithuanian side, FK Žalgiris Vilnius.
Cluj's progress has been bad news for AFC Rapid Bucuresti, who must beat FCU Politehnica Timisoara in Saturday's Romanian Cup final to grab a European berth after coming fourth in LIGA I. The club's players, coaches and officials say Rapid have the strongest squad in the country, but they have to prove it to qualify for the UEFA Cup first round. At the foot of the table, FC National 2000 Bucuresti, FC 2005 SA Arges and CS Jiul Petrosani have been relegated, while fourth-from-bottom FC Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt are holding out for a lifeline. Should FC Delta Tulcea gain a promotion place in the second division, Ceahlaul will survive since Delta did not apply for a top-flight licence. Instability has taken its toll of these teams, with Arges having three coaches this term, Jiul and Ceahlaul five apiece and National six.
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