As part of its tour of world football's major rivalries, FIFA.com stops off in Bucharest to take a look at the highly charged derby between Steaua and Dinamo, two sides engaged in a fierce battle for the honorary title of Romania's biggest club. The capital's rivals both owe their origins to the Communist regime that controlled the country for decades, a factor that undoubtedly contributed to their domestic duopoly and their more than respectable efforts on the European stage.
The highlight of the Romanian season, the Marele Derby (big derby) brings together the two most talented and best-supported teams in the land in a noisy, colourful spectacle that invariably generates plenty of talking points.
Like its eastern European neighbours, Romania came under Communist control in the aftermath of the Second World War, leading to profound changes in its sporting institutions. Several professional football clubs went out of existence altogether to be replaced by new clubs, many of them with strong links to the Party. Steaua and Dinamo were among these arrivistes and represented the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior respectively. Backed by their Communist founders, they went straight into the Romanian first division, making their debuts in 1948.
Financed by both ministries, the duo attracted the finest players in the country, who were also awarded posts in the military. As they began to harvest trophies, the Bucharest giants embarked on a rivalry stoked by a battle for supremacy between the two government departments they represented. The Dinamovişti complained of the ruling Ceaucescu family's preference for their city rivals, while the Roş-Albaştrii (red and blues) accused Dinamo of using the Securitate, the Romanian secret police, to exert pressure on their opponents.
Since the demise of Communist rule, however, Steaua and Dinamo have fought their battles out on the pitch, not that their rivalry has lost any of its intensity.
Facts and figures
In terms of trophies, Steaua have enjoyed greater success over the years, winning the UEFA European Champions Clubs' Cup in 1986 and collecting 23 domestic championships and 20 cups, far ahead of Dinamo's tally of 12 and 10 respectively. Nevertheless, the Red Dogs of Dinamo have the superior head-to-head record, having registered 50 wins, 45 draws and 48 defeats in 143 derby meetings, though the Army side have outscored them by 205 goals to 199 in that time.
As those tallies suggest, the Clasicul Romaniei (Romanian derby) tends to produce plenty of entertainment, with only ten of those meetings ending goalless, the last of them in 1999. Steaua's biggest win in the fixture is 5-0, a scoreline they racked up in 1984 and 1998, while Dinamo's most spectacular triumph was a 6-4 victory in a Romanian Cup tie in 1990.
Tales of derbies past
There have been many classic encounters between the two adversaries over the last six decades, and the fixture has thrown up countless anecdotes that will be long remembered by fans on both sides of the Bucharest divide.
One of the most heated encounters came in the 1988 Cup final, at the height of their rivalry. With the score tied at 1-1, Steaua scored a late goal only for it to be ruled out for offside, a decision made (according to the army club's fans) under pressure from the Dinamo bench. The Steaua team left the pitch never to return, while the Dinamo players went up and collected the cup. The Party later decided that the trophy should go to Steaua but when they attempted to hand the cup over to Dinamo following the collapse of Communist rule, the police side refused to accept it.
Ill-feeling resurfaced in a league match at Steaua's Ghencea Stadium the following season. On another controversial evening, Dinamo had two players sent off as they went down 2-1. After receiving his marching orders, Dinamo captain and Romania international Ion Andone, now the coach at CFR Cluj, made his displeasure known by looking up to the VIP stand where Valentin Ceaucescu, the son of the former dictator Nicolae was sitting, and ironically applauding.
The Ghencea was also the scene for another unfortunate event during the 1996/1997 league encounter. Dismayed by their side's 3-1 defeat, Dinamo fans accidentally set fire to the stand where they were seated.
Finally, Dinamo chiefs recently took the unusual step of prohibiting the sale of tickets to women in a bid to prevent violence on the terraces. This drastic measure was prompted by their belief that Steaua fans were sending their partners to queue up and buy tickets for them at Dinamo's stadium. Dinamo officials were alerted to the ruse when they heard the Steaua anthem blare out from a mobile phone belonging to a female fan queuing up for tickets ahead of a 2006 derby.
The rivalry today
The 144th meeting between the two sides comes only five games into the new Romanian season. And while Saturday's match will not decide the destiny of the championship, both Dinamo and Steaua will have their sights set on a morale-boosting victory. The capital's giants have been overshadowed in the last two seasons by the surprising exploits of 2008 league champions CFR Cluj and reigning title holders Unirea Urziceni. Locked together on seven points and both occupying places in the top six, Romania's big two are aware that an early derby triumph could be the springboard to their return to the pinnacle.