Play-off, play-out, and play the game

The Romanian league sat out last weekend on account of the terrible weather, but they’re now back in action for the second phase of the season. Dinamo will have to somehow salvage something from the “play-out” after the catastrophe of missing the cut. Struggling Sepsi and Juventus are moving back to their home towns. CFR Cluj are still setting the pace at the top, but FCSB and U Craiova will not let them get away.

Good news for two of the clubs struggling against relegation: Sepsi OSK are moving back to Sfântu Gheorghe from next week, now that their ground is up to Liga I standards. The Szeklers have been playing home games in Brașov, the nearest big city, since their promotion last summer. Bottom club Juventus București, meanwhile, who have been treating distant Ploiești as home all season, will now share FC Voluntari’s stadium on the outskirts of the capital for the remainder of the season. Whether this new accessibility to their small band of fans will be of much help in their fight to avoid the drop remains to be seen: Juventus have won just one game all season. But with the points halved, the gaps between league positions are much smaller and anything can happen. The three teams at the bottom – Sepsi, Juventus and Gaz Metan – all made significant reinforcements during the winter transfer window.

sepsi stadion
Some delightful new seats at the redeveloped Sepsi ground. (Source:digisport.ro) 

Dinamo are in the mire. This time last year they scraped into the play-off, but then Cosmin Contra’s team hit form at the right time and went into the last day of the season still able to win the title. They finished third, but last summer made a rare European appearance. Unfortunately for them, Contra left to take over the national team and the club’s owner appointed the unfashionable Vasile Miriuță, against the wishes of general manager Adrian Mutu, who departed for a job at the federation too. Athletic Bilbao were always going to be too strong, so they went out of the Europa League at the first opportunity. In the last round of the regular season this time around, the Red Dogs had to get a point at Astra Giurgiu, who had already secured their play-off place and were making noises like they wouldn’t be too bothered if they lost. However, Dinamo surrendered meekly 2-0 and Iaşi snuck into the play-off, based on a three-way head-to-head comparison (Botoşani also finished on the same points). Miriuță resigned, but the loss of revenue caused by not playing against the big boys for the rest of the season will further damage the already precarious finances of the grand old club. Under the new coach, former Dinamo and Romania striker Florin Bratu, they won’t get relegated, but the next few months will not be much fun.

In other news: Viitorul coach/owner Gheorghe Hagi has brought his son Ianis back from Fiorentina, where he played only 45 minutes of senior football – and that was last season. Hagi Jr., still only 19, was immediately re-installed as club captain; two goals and three assists in five games (the team have scored six altogether) show that his true level is, for now, surely somewhere in between Liga I and Serie A.

fc-hermannstadt-fcsb-11
Hermannstadt humiliating FCSB in front of a packed stadium in Sibiu. [Source: liga2.prosport.ro]
Playing the reserves after owner Gigi Becali declared that he doesn’t care about the tournament, FCSB were knocked out of the Romanian Cup 3-0 by second-division Hermannstadt. This leaves U Craiova as the biggest team still in the competition at the semi-final stage; they are also challenging for top spot in the league, currently lying third. In Liga 2, ASA Târgu Mureş have finally been declared bankrupt and have withdrawn from the competition.

As a side note: Rivaldo’s son Rivaldinho has left Dinamo for Levski Sofia. Still not really sure what that episode was all about: he was OK but not very good. The almost proverbially prolific Anthony Le Tallec also leaves Romania, after scoring one goal in twenty appearances for Astra. Taking his place in the British football-watchers’ novelties column is Nick Ross, a former Scotland Under-21 international midfielder whom Sepsi have signed from Dundee. Meanwhile, in the fourth tier, the latest attempt to auction the Rapid București brand, trophies etc. has come to nothing. I don’t even know why. I’ve decided it’s pointless to try to follow these shenanigans. I give up. Good night.

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