It’s suddenly the business end of the season. Who’s up and who’s down in the midst of a glut of fixtures this month?
Perhaps foolishly I am writing this halfway through a weekend of football, so everything below is true at the time of writing, even if not at the time of reading!
Liga 1 play-off
FCSB beat Dinamo in the derby (which was great fun and seems like ages ago – I wrote about it here) and currently sit three points clear at the top with four games to go…
Dinamo striker Rivaldinho has (as the cliche has it) discovered his shooting boots, scoring twice in a week, making a signing which appeared to be an insane publicity stunt look halfway defensible and helping his team back into title contention…
The customary poor run of play-off form for Viitorul is matched by other teams’ inconsistency, so Hagi’s boys are still in second place. If they do not win this weekend at FCSB their chance of becoming champions will be very slim indeed. Becali continues the other springtime tradition, of saying he’ll buy all the other Romanian teams’ best players, especially Viitorul’s…
Liga 1 play-out
A home defeat on Friday night in the Ilfov derby against Voluntari means that Concordia Chiajna are very much in trouble. They are so bad that they have managed to be leapfrogged by a team that had 14 points deducted at the start of the season. Without a win in nine games, they lie in the automatic relegation places, above only ASA Târgu Mureş. Their only hope lies in the similar awfulness of Pandurii, who in their last twelve matches have won only once. It was against Concordia though. Finishing third from bottom would mean a play-off against the third placed team in Liga 2; while the gap in resources should make a clash with Sepsi , Braşov or UTA (see below) very winnable, you never know what a massive gulf in confidence might do. A report on Liga2.ro, about the possibility of sharing Liga 1 TV revenue with the rest of the pyramid, revealed that almost 80% of teams relegated from the top division since 1995 have gone bust or vanished into the amateur county leagues. This could certainly happen to Concordia… which would be sad for Charlie and Mark. These two were Concordia’s only travelling support among a total paying crowd of 19 (nineteen) at the club’s last victory, against Pandurii (who else?) in February.
In round 30 of second division fixtures, Juventus Bucureşti yesterday lost at home in the league for the first time since November 2014. They took an early lead, but visitors UTA Bătrâna Doamnă pegged them back just before half time and then veteran captain Alin Gligor, who had missed a penalty in the first half, popped up to secure redemption by scoring the winner just after the break. A solid defensive effort saw off the home side’s attempts to equalise. The fan-owned club from Arad in the far west of the country (see here for a brief history of both the original UTA and the new foundation), coached by former Romanian international forward Laurențiu Roșu, now lie just one point behind second-placed Sepsi Sfântu Gheorghe, who also won this weekend. Last season Bătrâna Doamnă (“the Old Lady”) missed out on promotion to Liga 1 at the final hurdle, in a play-off against Voluntari; they will be hoping to finish second this time and thus secure an automatic promotion place. FC Braşov (still not extinct) and CS Mioveni are also in with a shout of reaching the top tier, with six rounds remaining.
Juventus, despite this unwelcome defeat, are still twelve points ahead of Sepsi and a shoo-in to be in the top flight next season. I have to say, for the sake of variety and interest I’d love to see both UTA and Sepsi go up – UTA because they’re a good news story, and Sepsi to represent the Szekely land in place of the descending ASA. Although promotion would probably be the only thing that could save the proud and historic FC Braşov too.
Liga 3 is divided into five regional ‘series’. The winner of each series is promoted to Liga 2; however, last season several teams turned down promotion because of the financial implications of taking part in a national competition.
Series 3 has already been won by CSM Pitești, with almost a quarter of the season still to play: coached by local lad and Romanian footballer of the year 2006 Nicolae Dică, the team has brought back second-tier football to the city that also brought you two of the country’s best ever players, Nicolae Dobrin and Adrian Mutu. Is this good news? A major force in the ’70s, FC Argeș Pitești went out of business in 2013. CSM is a clone club with no fans, set up six years ago and currently bankrolled by the local council. A fan-owned phoenix club, FC Argeș 1953, was established in 2013 and won promotion to Liga 3 last summer, but did not have the money to continue; the council decided to fund SCM and consequently the well-supported phoenix club folded after just three years in existence.
Series 2 has been similarly dominated by Metaloglobus, the former factory team from the eastern Bucharest district of Pantelimon. The coach is one-time national team goalkeeper and local boy Bogdan Vintilă, who has previously coached Voluntari, Viitorul and Romania U17, and they even have another former Romania international out on the pitch – 38-year-old Gigel Coman. Owner of the giant factory (which still stands but nowadays is mostly rented space and employs about twenty people) and of the football club, Syrian businessman Imad Kassas, wants Metaloglobus to be playing in Liga 1 within two years. A friend of Gigi Becali, Kassas’s is apparently the only Bucharest club which owns its own ground, and he pays the wages on time. This is, realistically, probably enough to compete in the top half of Liga 2 next season, as more and more struggling clubs at this level go under due to lack of funds. Metaloglobus, which spent all its existence in the local leagues until 2011, could well rise higher and higher… [Source: excellent liga2.ro article here.]
In Series 4, the well-supported, fan-owned Ripensia Timişoara are in with a chance of a second successive promotion. Re-founded in the sixth division in 2012, sixty-four years after the original club, which won four league titles in the 1930s, was disbanded, even if they do go up Ripi will still only be the city’s third team behind the two bizarrely conflicting Politehnica Timişoaras.
Timişoara Saracens’ attempt to qualify for next season’s European Challenge Cup is already over: they were beaten today by Russian side Krasny Yar, who will now go forward to a final deciding play-off at Murrayfield in May. Steaua sit on top of the Superliga, only just ahead of Știința Baia Mare, who beat them in Maramureș today. Saracens are third.