The Liga 1 (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈliɡa ˈunu]; English: League One), most often spelled as Liga I (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈliɡa ɨnˈtɨj]; English: First League), is a Romanian professional league for men’s association football clubs. It is currently sponsored by betting company Casa Pariurilor, and thus officially known as the Casa Liga 1. At the top of the Romanian football league system, it is the country’s primary football competition. Contested by 14 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with Liga II. The teams play 26 matches each in the regular season, and then enter the championship play-off or the relegation play-out according to their position in the regular season.
Liga I was established in 1909 and commenced play for the 1909–10 campaign, being currently on the 29th place in UEFA‘s league coefficient ranking list. It is administered by the Liga Profesionistă de Fotbal (LPF). Before the 2006–07 season, the competition was known as Divizia A, but the name had to be changed following the finding that someone else had registered that trademark.
The best performer is FCSB with 26 titles,[note 1] followed by cross-town rival Dinamo București with 18 trophies. Of the remaining 21 clubs which came victorious in the competition, eight have won it on at least three occasions—Venus București, UTA Arad, Chinezul Timișoara, Universitatea Craiova, Petrolul Ploiești, Ripensia Timișoara, Rapid București, and CFR Cluj. The latter has only been remarkably successful in the 21st century.
Early championships (1909–1921)
The first official national football tournament was organized in 1909 by the recently founded Romanian Football Federation, then called the Association of Athletic Societies in Romania (Romanian: Asociațiunea Societăților Atletice din România). The final matches of the first Romanian Football Championship were held between December 1909 and January 1910 in Bucharest. The three pioneer clubs were Olympia and Colentina from Bucharest and United from Ploiești. Each team played a fixture against the other two clubs, totalizing a number of three matches disputed, with Olympia București being crowned as champions of the first Romanian Football Championship. In the following years, the tournament was structured into regional groups with the winners of each group participating in a playoff with the eventual winners being declared champions. From 1909 until 1921, the championship was organized as a cup with the winner being crowned as Champions of Romania, except for between 1916–1919, when the competition was suspended due to World War I. The champions of this period were Olympia, Colentina and Venus, each with two titles, and United, Prahova and Româno-Americana, with one title each.
Divizia A (1921–2006)
The 1921–22 season marked the first time when a league consisting of seven teams was formed. The championship, which had been confined to several regional leagues, became a national competition in 1921 with the foundation of Divizia A and Divizia B. The inaugural Divizia A season was won by Chinezul Timișoara. Before the 1931–32 season, the competition was dominated by Chinezul and Venus București, with Chinezul winning six championships and Venus two championships during the eleven seasons. The 1932–33 season saw the rise of another successful team, Ripensia Timișoara, which alongside rivals Venus, won eight of the following nine championships, before the competition was suspended in 1940 due to World War II.
The post-war years were dominated by CCA București, UTA Arad and Petrolul Ploiești. The 1960s saw the gradual emergence of Dinamo București, with the help from strikers Gheorghe Ene and Florea Dumitrache—both of whom became some of Divizia A’s top all-time scorers. The 1970s saw the rise of Dudu Georgescu, from Dinamo București, who was Divizia A’s leading scorer for four seasons between 1974 and 1978. He scored an impressive 156 goals and won the European Golden Shoe award for the top scorer in Europe twice, in 1975 and 1977. Dinamo București also had two more European Golden Shoe winners in the 1986–87 season in the name of Rodion Cămătaru and in the 1988–89 season in the name of Dorin Mateuţ, with the latter being the last Romanian winner of the trophy. From the 1959–60 season all the way to the 1999–2000 season all the league championships were won by only seven teams: Steaua (16 titles), Dinamo (14 titles), Universitatea Craiova (4 titles), Rapid București, FC Argeș and UTA Arad (2 titles each), and Petrolul Ploiești (one title).
Dinamo București was the first Romanian team to qualify into the European Champions Cup in the 1956–57 season of the competition and Universitatea Craiova was the last team from Romania to qualify in the 1991–92 season, before the competition changed its name to the UEFA Champions League. Romanian teams qualified to 35 of the 37 seasons of the European Champions Cup, with Dinamo București having thirteen appearances, Steaua București having ten appearances, Universitatea Craiova having four appearances, Petrolul having three appearances, UTA Arad and FC Argeş having two appearances and Rapid București having one appearance. The most important results for a Romanian team in this competition were achieved by Steaua București which won the trophy in the 1985–86 season, and reached the semi-finals in the 1987–88 season and another final in the 1988–89 season. Other important achievements include Universitatea Craiova which reached the quarter-finals in the 1981–82 season and Dinamo București which reached the semi-finals in the 1983–84 season. However, after the change of the format in 1992–93 to the current Champions League format, Romanian champions have achieved limited successes, with Steaua only reaching the group stage three times before the 21st century.
The beginning of the 2000s were dominated by teams from the capital, with Steaua, Dinamo and Rapid winning all the league titles between 2000 and 2007.
Liga I (2006–present)
At the beginning of the 2006–07 season the competition was forced to change its name from Divizia A to Liga I due to a trademark dispute over the name. The change was made on 15 May 2006, and the Romanian Football Federation decided to also rename the lower leagues; thus Divizia B became Liga II, Divizia C became Liga III, and so on. The 2006–07 season marked the 16th straight time a team from Bucharest won the championship, with Dinamo winning the title. Both 2007–08 and 2008–09 saw new title winners as CFR Cluj and Unirea Urziceni were crowned champions for the first time. CFR Cluj won their second championship in 2009–10, while the 2010–11 saw another new winner, Oțelul Galați. Oțelul is the first and only club from the region of Moldavia to win a national title.
CFR Cluj, the 2007–08 winner became the first Romanian team to qualify directly into the 2008–09 group stage of the UEFA Champions League, and the first team other than Steaua to qualify to this stage since the beginning of the new Champions League format in 1992–93. The 2009–10 champions as well as 2010–11 ones were guaranteed a direct qualification spot into the group stage as well. The best results in the group stage was obtained by CFR Cluj in the 2012–13 UEFA Champions League with ten points and third place in a group with Manchester United, Braga and Galatasaray.
The 2010s also brought new league winners in Liga I, with Astra Giurgiu and Viitorul Constanța clinching the titles in 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively.
Since 2015, the Liga I has been reduced to a 14-team format. From July to the start of the following year, each team plays the others twice for 26 fixtures. They are ranked by total points, and then divided according to their position in order to enter either the championship play-offs or the relegation play-outs. After this stage, the points are halved in two and criteria such as goal difference, goals scored etc. are erased completely.
The clubs which enter the championship play-offs play ten games, while the ones in the relegation play-outs play an additional four. The championship play-offs winner is also crowned winner of the season’s Liga I. The two lowest placed teams in the relegation play-outs are directly relegated to the Liga II, while the third-lowest plays a relegation/promotion play-off with the third-best ranked team in the second tier.