Football is the most popular sport in Romania and the first recorded instance of the game was in 1888, when a newspaper reported about two kids playing a ball with their feet in the city of Arad.
Professional and international football in Romania is currently governed by the Romanian Football Federation, known as the FRF. It was founded in 1909 and became a member of the FIFA in 1923.
Romanian football league system
Romania has three major league systems: Liga I, II, & III. Liga I is the highest in the country and is usually played from July to May. 18 teams compete for the highest domestic title in a double-round robin system. Each season teams play each other twice, one at home and one away.
- In Liga I, a team is awarded three points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. The four lowest-ranked teams at the end of the season are relegated to Liga II.
- Liga II is the second highest division and is divided into Serie I and Serie II. Teams are divided geographically (18 teams for the Eastern & Western divisions) in order to avoid long and expensive travels. The champion and runner-up for each Liga II division are automatically promoted to top-flight while the bottom-five drop into third division.
- Liga III is made up of six regional divisions, each with 18 semi-professional teams. Just below the third level are 42 county competitions, played with varying teams and systems. Game quality at the county level is mostly recreational.
Romanian football clubs
The most successful Romanian football clubs are from the capital city of Bucharest. Steaua Bucharest holds the most domestic titles with 23, followed by Dinamo with 18. From 1950s until the mid-2000s, the two capital teams dominated domestic football.
Steaua Bucharest is the most successful Romanian club in international level, having been Champions League winners in 1986 and European Super Cup holders the same year. They also finished runners-up in the 1986 Intercontinental Cup.
Steaua’s and Dinamo’s domestic dominance was cut in the 2007-08 when CRF Cluj, the country’s oldest club, won the league title. Cluj’s climb from third division to the championship began in 2002 when local businessman Arpad Paszkany started supporting them.
The following season, FC Unirea Urziceni became the title winner. A new sponsorship in 2003 pushed the club’s success from lower division to national title. (However, the club dissolved in July 2011 after a series of unsuccessful international campaigns.)
Cruj won the league again in 2009-10 and the next season, a new champion emerged with FC Otelul Galati.
National football team of Romania
Romania played their first international competition in 1922, a 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia in the city of Belgrade. They were part of the first FIFA World Cup in 1930 but failed to make it past group stage. Romania’s footballers that time were not full-time professionals, but held jobs of their own to sustain their living.
Romania’s participation to the 1930 World Cup was made possible by King Carol II, who negotiated with the players’ employers to let them have their job back after the long travel from Uruguay. Romania qualified in the 1934 and 1938 World Cup but it would not be until 1970 that they would stand on world stage again.
The 1970s and 1980s were decades of struggles for Romania, failing to qualify for the World Cup from 1974 to 1986. Romania rose again in international level when they qualified for the 1990 World Cup, courtesy of the country’s finest footballer, Gheorghe Hagi.
Romania made it to the Round of 16 in Italia 90 before being knocked out by Ireland on penalties. The best performance of the Romanians came in the 1994 World Cup when they made it to the quarter-finals. They would qualify again in the 1998 World Cup but their dreams were cut short in the second round. However, Romania left an enduring image for this Mondial: all the players dyed their hair blonde to celebrate a successful group stage.
Since 1998, Romania is yet to qualify for another World Cup. But Romania would impress the world again in 2000 by making it to the quarter finals of EURO, their best performance in the tournament ever. Currently, the national team is attempting to soar higher in international competition and is in the process of rebuilding their home stadium in Bucharest, the Stadionul National.
Greatest Romanian footballers
Romania’s success in the 1990s was propelled by the greatest footballers the country has seen. Some of the most talented football players the country has produced are Ilie Balaci, Adrian Ilie, Adrian Mutu, and Cristian Chivu. But among the long list of great Romanian players, two stand out among the rest:
Gheorghe Hagi is remembered for leading Romania to their best international performance, the quarter finals of the 1994 World Cup, and for scoring a superb goal against Colombia in the tournament. But this gifted playmaker/attacking midfielder, who is fondly nicknamed the “Maradona of the Carpathians”, saw his best years at club level.
Hagi led Steaua Bucharest to their 1986 European Cup title (now the Champion’s League), the best ever achievement of a Romanian football club. He also became the major component of Galatasaray’s UEFA Cup victory in 2000, the best feat the Turkish club has made.
Remarkably, his most illustrious years came when he was beyond 30 years of age, just when most people thought he was done for. Hagi’s life story is even more inspiring because of his humble beginnings as a young soccer player, when his youth coach Iosif Bükössi had to provide him snacks and football shoes just so he can attend away matches.
Popescu is one of the most capped Romanians in history, having played 115 games for his country by the time he retired. He was an important presence in the backline for Romania during their best international years and was also a driving force in the domestic and international successes of his clubs: Steaua Bucharest, PSV Eindhoven, FC Barcelona, & Galatasaray.
Football stadiums in Romania
Football grounds in Romania have some of the most ecstatic and overwhelming atmosphere in Europe. Avid fans vehemently support their team during match days. Below are the three biggest football stadia in the country.
The Sadionul National is located in the capital city of Bucharest and hosts the National Football Team of Romania. It has an all-seater capacity of 55,600 and has undergone major revamping in preparation to host the 2012 UEFA Europa League Final.
Stadionul Dan P?ltini?anu
The Dan Paltinisanu Stadium is located in the City of Timisoara and hosts local club FC Politechnica. It was named after a former Politechnica hero, who played as center-back and scored some of the most important goals for the club. The ground has a capacity of nearly 33,000.
Stadionul Iftimie Ilisei
The Iftimie Ilisei is the third largest stadium in Romania, with a capacity of nearly 33,000. It hosts CSM Medgidia, a lower division club.