Pitchside Europe

Romania shamed by Petrolul fan attack

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Typically, when a
television commentator piously informs us that we are witnessing "shameful
scenes", what is actually taking place is the kind of mass free-for-all
that has most football fans gawping at the screen with unashamed glee. That was
not the case, however, in Sunday evening's Romanian Liga I match between
Petrolul Ploiesti and Steaua Bucharest.

With
half-time approaching at Petrolul's newly opened Ilie Oană Stadium and Steaua
1-0 up, the awarding of a penalty to the visitors prompted an irate fan to invade
the pitch and clobber Steaua defender George Galamaz with a cowardly rabbit punch. His thirst for
violence unquenched, the assailant continued marauding downfield until being
forcibly stopped in his tracks by Steaua pair Novak Martinović and Răzvan
Stanca, who were both sent off as a result.

The
dismissal of Stanca obliged Steaua to send on reserve goalkeeper Ciprian Tătărușanu, but when play eventually resumed and Steaua scored the penalty, he
was hit by a flare thrown from the stands and the game was abandoned. The
unemployed 25-year-old fan, named as Stefan Dragos Enache, was detained and
appeared in court on Monday, while Galamaz was taken to hospital with a
fractured cheekbone and hearing problems. Steaua are expected to be awarded the
match.

Violent
incidents in the Romanian top flight are rare but Radu Baicu,
a Romanian scout based in Ploiesti who runs the Scouting Romania
website, says the country's football authorities failed to heed warnings.

"Last night's scenes should have been prevented, because Petrolul's fans always
try to find ways to hurt their bitter rivals," he told Pitchside Europe. "A few days before this match, buses with fans of
Astra (the other first division team from Ploiesti) had been stopped and
attacked with stones. Nothing happened in that case, not even to lead to better
prevention for the match versus Steaua."

Once
synonymous with the artful playmaking of Gheorghe Hagi, Romanian football has
instead become renowned for corruption and mismanagement in recent years.
Suspicions of crooked officiating are rife and the president of the country's
refereeing commission, Vasile Avram, was arrested last month on charges of
accepting bribes. Last season's Liga I runners-up FC Timişoara, meanwhile, are
currently playing in the second division due to unpaid debts owed to both the
national government and Benfica, while Gloria Bistriţa were also demoted to the
second tier over financial irregularities.

Even
opportunities for celebration tend not to work out as planned. Romania
inaugurated their new National Arena in Bucharest in a Euro 2012 qualifier with
France in September, only for the match to be overshadowed by French complaints
about the abysmal quality of the playing surface.

Events on the pitch mirror
the turmoil off it. Steaua won the European Cup in 1986 and reached the final
three years later, but no Romanian side has reached the knockout phase in the
Champions League era and the country plummeted nine places to 23rd in the most
recent UEFA co-efficient index. The national side have also faded since a team
spearheaded by Adrian Mutu and Ciprian Marica qualified in superb fashion for
the 2008 European Championship, finishing six points shy of a play-off place in
qualifying for Euro 2012.

"What happened last night
is a stain," admits Baicu. "What worries me more is that those who are in
charge of Romanian football will not act swiftly and efficiently; will not use
this terrible event to enforce the laws and to look after all those that take
part in the game."

Reigning Romanian champions
Otelul
Galati
visit Manchester United in the Champions League on Wednesday. Chances of an
upset at Old Trafford may reside in the slim-to-none range, but no result could
be as damaging for the country as what happened in Ploiesti on Sunday night.

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