As many pundits predicted before the Romanian First Division season began, it is turning into a three-horse race between capital clubs - FC Dinamo Bucuresti, FC Steaua Bucuresti and current champions FC Rapid Bucuresti.
Only three points separate the trio at the winter break, with the leading two Dinamo and Steaua dead level. The results between the three sum up how close they are - Rapid were held 1-1 at home by Steaua, who scored a 1-0 victory against Dinamo, a team that also lost 4-3 against Rapid.
Steaua's bid for the title has been aided by their awesome defence, which has conceded just six goals, currently the seventh best record in any European top-flight. Victor Piturca's team has been based around Belarussian goalkeeper Vasili Hamutovski and Romanian international defender Florentin Dumitru, and they were only narrowly eliminated by Liverpool FC in the UEFA Cup. However, their Romanian Cup bid ended at the last 16 stage against Petrolul Ploiesti.
Dinamo, on the other hand, have scored 38 goals in their 15 league games, and their 69 in all competitions is the best on the continent this season. This was shown when they secured a 7-0 first-leg cup quarter-final victory against Steaua's conquerors Petrolul. Ionel Danciulescu is the only striker in the division on double figures with ten goals, and he also leads the way in the team for assists. However, their attacking instincts have resulted in defeats against Steaua and Rapid.
Petrescu in charge
Rapid are still very much in the running to retain their title, but five dropped points in November were followed by a 2-0 loss in the away leg of their cup quarter-final against CS Otelul Galati, with the return not until March. But radical changes are now afoot at Rapid, who have a new executive president in Ioan Becali, appointed on Tuesday by main shareholder George Copos, and a fresh coach in former Romanian international Dan Petrescu. The new coach warned his rivals: "We will play aggressive football, we will change the mentality."
In fourth place, within six points of Rapid, are a side who seemed to be set to struggle all season, FC Universitatea Craiova. But the appointment of Pavel Badea as player-coach in October transformed the team, who have since picked up 13 points in six games. However, club president Adrian Mititelu has decided on another change, with Italian Nicolo Napoli in place for 2004, and Badea leaving the club.
At the bottom, things are equally tight. FC Farul Constanta, in eighth, are only six points ahead of the bottom side of 16, Petrolul. The side in the highest of the three relegation places, FC Oradea, have now sacked president Ioan Lucian and coach Ionut Popa.
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