Soccer-Astra crowned winter champions in Romania


Dec 21 (Reuters) - FC Astra retained the Romanian league's top spot on Saturday after being held to a 1-1 home draw by unbeaten champions Steaua Bucharest in a tense encounter just before the two-month winter break.

Gabriel Enache put Astra in front after a quick counterattack 10 minutes before the interval but Cape Verde defender Fernando Varela levelled the score from close range in first-half stoppage time.

Astra - who were known as Astra Ploiesti until September 2012, when they moved from Ploiesti to the Danube town of Giurgiu - earned the honorary title of winter champions after collecting 42 points from 19 games, followed by Petrolul Ploiesti on 40.

Steaua, the 1986 European Cup winners, are third with 39 points but have two games in hand.

The league season will resume on Feb. 12, when Steaua host Concordia Chiajna.

Astra were originally founded in 1934 but disappeared from the football map after a merger with city rivals Petrolul Ploiesti in 2003.

Owner Ioan Niculae revived the club in 2005. They began in the lower leagues under the name of CSM FC Ploiesti and won promotion to the top flight in 2009, with Niculae renaming the club FC Astra Ploiesti and reintroducing the traditional club colours of black and white.

After moving to Giurgiu, close to the Bulgarian border, Astra finished fourth in the domestic championship last season for their best league performance and reached the Romanian Cup's semi-finals for the third time in their history.

(Writing by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Stephen Wood)

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