Thursday 21 April 2016, 5.30pm. Stadionul Valentin Stanescu, Giulesti, Bucharest.
A warm, sunny afternoon in Bucharest for Rapid’s chance to impose themselves on the play-off phase of the Liga 2 season. The giulestenii finished the first part of the season top of Serie 1, the eastern half, of the second division but since then have won one and lost one, relying on their nearest challengers to slip up too in order to remain in first position.
Farul Constanta, meanwhile, after securing their place in the top half earlier this month, have lost 4-0 away and then 0-6 at home in their first two matches of the play-off. They are out to recover some of their lost dignity at the Valentin Stanescu stadium. 5th place in the top division and a cup final appearance, both in 2004-05, seem an awfully long time ago. (Mind you, Rapid finished 3rd that season and reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals the following year…)
Rapid are now coached by Dan Alexa, a former midfield enforcer, nicknamed ‘the Surgeon’ for his habit of referring opponents to hospital. On Farul’s bench is Ilie Stan, a European Cup runner-up with Steaua in 1989.
Rapidistii pack Tribuna II, the eastern side of the stadium, in spite of the early kick-off when many people are still at work. The sun shines directly into our eyes for the entire game. Rapid make a lively start and Popa scores after ten minutes. Although they have a good chance to score themselves, Farul spend most of the game looking like they might concede a goal at any moment, but Rapid’s final ball and finishing are below par. Farul captain, striker Chitu, huffs and puffs a lot but gets nary a sight of goal. Rapid’s Spanish centre-back Fran Cruz has a couple of hairy moments, but the home goal is rarely in danger. Cristian Raiciu, a new Rapid recruit and a young graduate of Hagi’s academy, looks lively in midfield, but his team cannot break through again and the match peters out long before the end with no further score. A couple of smuggled flares provide the only entertainment of a dull second half in which the home ultras have even run out of enthusiasm for chanting.
The thirty or so Farul fans miss the only goal of this game, being herded into the away section about fifteen minutes in. They proceed in single file along the deserted south stand, each of them flicking the finger at the raucous home support in our section. A protest by those away fans during this match, demanding the resignation of the coach Stan and the club president Auras Brasoveanu, would intensify at their next home game, leading to Stan’s replacement by club legend Ion Barbu after a reign lasting only five weeks.