Two security guards are seen in an empty stadium before the Group D 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match between Hungary and Romania in Budapest

Romania, Hungary set to revive volatile rivalry on Friday

2 Comments

Romania hosts Hungary on Friday (2 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com) with both nations’ World Cup qualification chances resting on three points. Anything less than a win would put them even further behind pace in UEFA qualifying’s Group D.

Hungary currently holds the second-place spot with 11 points, and Romania is right behind with 10. Only the top team in each group receives automatic qualification — the Netherlands has all but locked that up, with 18 points — with the second-place finishers advancing to a playoff round.

They tied their first meeting in this edition of qualifying, 2-2 on March 22 in Budapest, playing behind closed doors in an empty Ferenc Puskás Stadium (pictured, right) after anti-Semitic chants at an Aug. 15 friendly against Israel forced UEFA to hand down the punishment to the Hungarian federation.

Romania has not qualified for a World Cup since France 1998, while Hungary’s drought dates back to Mexico 1986. Both nations are generations removed from their heydays, when Gheorghe Hagi’s left foot graced Romania’s squad and Puskás’ goal-scoring ability carried Hungary to the 1954 World Cup final.

source:
Translation: “The Hungarian federation reacted firmly and fined four clubs in the first two divisions for anti-Romanian scandals in the stands last weekend. ‘It can also be civilized!’ This should be the mindset of Romanian fans at the game tomorrow.”

Off the field, the countries have a volatile coexistence stemming from Romania’s annexation of Transylvania after World War I. Both countries see the territory, from the Hungarian-Romanian border to the Carpathian Mountains, as rightfully theirs, and nationalist political parties in Budapest have sought to regain the territory in post-communist years by enacting policy giving ethnic Hungarians worldwide, regardless of actual nationality, a right to vote and carry a Hungarian passport.

Hungarians are the largest minority in Romania, and a large number of Romanians speak Hungarian, especially in Transylvania. Hungarian influence in the area, where multiple towns and villages speak Hungarian as their primary language, is inescapable. (Note of disclosure: the reporter of this story, Liviu Bird, has family ties to Cluj-Napoca, the capital of the region, and his mother was born there.)

On the weekend prior to Friday’s match, the Hungarian federation fined four clubs in the top two divisions for anti-Romanian chants, but officials in Bucharest still hope for a “civilized” showing from both sets of fans (see image above).

However, Hungarian fans seem to be of a different mindset. With right-wing fans at an apparent an all-time high, crowd trouble feels almost inevitable at Arena Națională in Bucharest. Hungarian ultras gathered on Thursday night to begin the long, arduous journey from Budapest to Bucharest, singing the national anthem in Keleti station before boarding their train:

And lighting flares and chanting loudly as the train left the station:

Friday’s match will be wrought with tension. Both teams desperately need a win, as both have difficult matches in the coming months to close out qualifying. But the story in the stands could overshadow it all.

Transfer rumor roundup: Icardi’s Italian stay, Atleti still seek Costa

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 07:  Mauro Icardi (L) of FC Internazionale Milano celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Stevan Jovetic during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale Milano and Empoli FC  at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 7, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi both spent some time as potential Arsenal players in the summer rumor mills, but will the former’s move to Juventus keep the latter from the Emirates Stadium?

As we wait for official confirmation that Juventus has purchased Higuain from Napoli for $103 million, it seems Napoli is aiming to replace him with Icardi. Football Italia says Inter has rejected an offer of $22 million plus Manolo Gabbiadini that would send Icardi to Naples.

[ MORE: Messi back, blonde at Barca ]

Gabbiadini has 20 goals in 60 matches for Napoli, but Icardi is among the hottest properties in the world. The 23-year-old Argentine is signed through 2019, and the fee is obviously going to be quite high, but Napoli is ready to spend money that others may not.


Many players have been rumored for the “fourth chair” behind Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez in the Barcelona attack orchestra, but could the issue be settled with a reserve from Atletico Madrid?

Luciano Vietto, 22, is being linked with a $24 million move from the Vicente Calderon to the Camp Nou. AS says personal terms are the only obstacle remaining, and Vietto would have a lot to prove in Barcelona. After belting 20 goals for Valencia in 2014-15, Vietto found the net just thrice in 28 matches last season.


Atleti could use that money, according to Marca, as Diego Simeone’s bunch reportedly believes it can pry Diego Costa from Chelsea. The Brazilian-born Spanish international has massive success at Atleti before moving to North London, and Simeone has not quit on the idea of bringing him back “home”.


Also, we’re just going to leave this right here, with the lone add-on that Aaron Schoenfeld is tearing it up for Maccabi’s rival.

Messi returns ahead of schedule, sporting golden hair (photo)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina looks on against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi is back with Barcelona a week earlier than expected, as the Camp Nou set prepares to defend another La Liga title.

That means Messi will be on the roster for the International Champions Cup, as Barcelona is slated to play Celtic, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby in China on Monday ]

That’s not the only surprise from the 29-year-old, who has pulled an Aaron Ramsey and dramatically altered his ‘do.

Glad to have him back on our screens a bit earlier than planned, and — although I’m far from a style icon — I’ll be just as glad when the blonde grows/washes out of his head.

Ronaldo seeking new contract, says he’ll miss UEFA Super Cup

FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL - JULY 22: Dionisio Pestana, Cristiano Ronaldo and Miguel Albuquerque (President of the Regional Government of Madeira) during the opening of the new 'Pestana CR7 Funchal' Hotel owned by Cristiano Ronaldo on July 22, 2016 in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cristiano Ronaldo’s long summer has earned him an extended vacation, but the knee injury he suffered in the EURO 2016 Final would’ve kept him from this season’s first big club match anyway.

The 31-year-old star will not be available for the Aug. 9 UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, saying he’ll be back in the mix just one day later.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

Ronaldo also said he’s going to speak with the club about extending his contract, which runs through the 2017-18 season. He’s very been vocal about his desire to finish his career at the Bernabeu, and will put pen to paper in order to prove it.

From Sky Sports:

“I spoke to the president on the phone and when I get to Madrid, we will talk about it.

“Obviously it’s something I want, I have mentioned it many times, and the club also wants it. But we only spoke briefly, and there will be more concrete things to come.”

No surprises here, though it would’ve been nice to have Ronaldo on our screens for the match-up between his Champions League winners and the Europa League champions.

Guardiola, Mourinho prepare for derby in China, shake off personal rivalry

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 16: Barcelona manager (L) Josep Guardiola shakes hands with head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 16, 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Preseason matches rarely have legitimate hype, let alone live up to it.

Yet Monday will see Manchester United and Manchester City tangle outside of England for the first time in history, and there are a lot of fans looking forward to the early morning match in China.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

A lot of that has to do with it being the first match-up between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho as bosses of City and United, to the extent where journalists asked whether the longtime rivals would shake hands (admittedly a weird question, as if to say, “Are you a grown-up?”).

They essentially issued the same answer, and here are Mourinho’s comments, from ManUtd.com:

“Of course I will shake his hand – why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the question to him or to me. We were opponents for three years [in Spain] but we are professionals. I don’t see why I wouldn’t shake his hand.”

Both managers also talked, understandably, about fitness and health being their No. 1 goal of the match, and there are concerns about the pitch in China due to heavy rains.

Guardiola also gave insight into Vincent Kompany‘s continued struggles with recovery from the injury that hampered him for much of last season, refusing to give a timetable for the captain’s return.