Romania is truly passionate about football and this passion is demonstrated in matches between its 2 most successful clubs Steaua and Dinamo Bucharest. This is Romania’s Eternal Derby.
Football in Europe both in the club and international game has for the majority of its history been dominated by Western European clubs and national teams. Since the foundation and first UEFA Champions League/European Cup competition in the 1955/56 season, the 61 seasons of European football since then have yielded 22 different winners, with winners of 46 editions coming from European football’s “Big 4” leagues of England, Germany, Italy and Spain. In international football, only 3 non-Western European countries have won the UEFA European Championships, the Soviet Union in 1960, Czechoslovakia in 1976 and Greece in Euro 2004, in FIFA World Cups, non-Western Europe national teams have reached World Cup finals like Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but none have yet won the big prize.
Prior to the period between 1989 and 1995 which saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the foundation of the now financial juggernauts that are the Champions League and Premier League and the opening up of the free market for player transfers with the Bosman ruling, one country and its domestic clubs from outside of the Western European elite left a significant impression on football fans in Western Europe. That country was Romania. In the international arena, the Romanian national team qualified for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, and only lost to both Brazil and England (considered alongside Italy and Germany to be 2 of the best 4 sides in World Football at that time) by single goal margins. In 1984 Romania qualified for the then 8 team European Championships and despite not being able to progress to the Semi Finals, they performed admirably in the tournament and in their 3 group matches against 3 giants of World Football, Spain, Portugal and West Germany, they managed one draw and 2 one-goal defeats. Finally in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, Romania truly announced themselves on the international stage by reaching the last 16 and Quarter Finals of these 2 tournaments respectively, being knocked out only on penalties in both tournaments and remaining unbeaten against Argentina with 1 draw and a victory against the South American giants.
The catalyst for amazing performances in the international arena by Romania in the late 1980’s/early-mid 1990’s, was the performances of 2 Romanian club sides in the European Cup and other European club competitions in this period. These 2 clubs are Romania’s most prestigious and popular clubs and whilst they combined to provide the bulk of Romanian national team squads at past international tournaments like the 1990 World Cup, there was and still is nothing amicable about their relationship in the club game which forms the biggest club game in Romanian football, these 2 clubs are Steaua Bucharest and Dinamo Bucharest, Romania’s Eternal Derby.
Foundation and Origin
The first of the 2 clubs to form was Steaua, who were founded on 6th June 1947 under the name Asociația Sportivă a Armatei București (ASA Bucharest). Asociația Sportivă a Armatei is Romanian for Army Sports Association and gives an important clue into the origins of Steaua, who were set up as the footballing department of the Romanian Royal Army by its top commander at the time, General Mihail Lascar. Between its foundation and 1961, the club went through 2 further name changes (renaming itself CSCA (Clubul Sportiv Central al Armatei) in 1948 and CCA (Casa Centrală a Armatei in 1950) before it underwent its final name change to CSA Steaua Bucharest. CSA stands for Clubul Sportiv al Armatei Steaua or Army Sports Club Steaua in English. More importantly though, was the presence of the word “Steaua” in the changed name, which is Romanian for star, the red star being a logo of communist ideology was visible on many buildings, equipment and flags of Warsaw Pact and Iron Curtain countries at this period in time.
Dinamo Bucharest were formed a year later than Steaua, on 14th May 1948, their foundation was enacted by a merger of 2 clubs, Unirea Tricolor MAI and Ciocanul Bucharest. These two clubs that combined to form Dinamo came from distinctly different backgrounds, Unirea Tricolor was the football club division of the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs, an umbrella organisation which included the Romanian Police, the Romanian Border Police and the Romanian General Directorate for Intelligence and Internal Security. Ciocanul Bucharest was a club formed in 1919 under its former name Maccabi Bucharest by members of Bucharest’s minority Jewish population. After the Romanian Revolution in December 1989, the club briefly considered renaming Dinamo Bucharest back to Unirea Tricolor due to the association of the club’s name with Romanian head of state Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal secret police force, the Securitate in Communist Romania. However, the idea of changing back the club’s name reportedly did not gather wide support and thus post-Revolution, the club continued to be known as it is to this present day as Dinamo Bucharest.
In Communist Romania, like many Eastern European or Warsaw Pact countries, many of the government’s armed forces like the Army or governmental departments like the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Railway Workers Trade Union used sport as a means of proving that they were superior to their fellow departments, which was the origins of the rivalry between Steaua and Dinamo Bucharest.
A Domestically Dominant Duo
As far as mid-ranking European leagues go, the Romanian league is quite unique in providing a number of different domestic championship winners throughout its history, with a total of 22 different winners since the first championship in the 1909-10 season. This compares very favourably compared to Portugal, Greece and Turkey (only 5 different winners), however, because of the number of teams that have won the domestic championship since its inception, both Steaua and Dinamo have by far the largest numbers of titles won. Steaua lead the way with 26 titles, Dinamo are in second place with 18 titles. To emphasise the dominance of these two clubs, the 3rd highest ranked team, Venus Bucharest have only won 8 titles, the last of which occurred in the 1939-1940 season. When it comes to cups won, once again, Steaua have the edge with 22 Romanian Cups compared to Dinamo’s 13 Romanian Cups.
European Success for Steaua, an Admirable Performance by Dinamo, however, which club’s performance in Europe was superior?
Prior to the 1983-84 season, the furthest round either Steaua or Dinamo Bucharest had managed to reach in the European Cup was the second round, an unremarkable achievement achieved 3 times by Dinamo Bucharest. In 1983-84, Romanian club football suddenly sprang into life in European competitions, Dinamo were the country’s representatives in the European Cup that season. After dispatching Finnish side Kuusysi 4-0 over 2 legs in round 1, the club then faced the then defending European Champions Hamburg SV in the second round. In a shock, the German giants were knocked out by Dinamo 5-3 on aggregate. In the Quarter Finals, Dinamo then defeated Soviet Champions Dinamo Minsk 2-1 on aggregate to set up a Semi Final with English giants Liverpool. The fairytale run ended here for Dinamo as Liverpool won 3-1 on aggregate over the 2 legs, but Dinamo had laid the foundation for Romanian clubs to believe that they could achieve success in European football.
Just 2 seasons later in 1985-86, Steaua were Romania’s representatives in the European Cup, after 3 victories against modest opponents Velje Boldklub, Budapest Honved and Kuusysi in the first 3 rounds, their first major test came against Belgian giants Anderlecht in the Semi Finals. After a 1-0 loss in the first leg away in Brussels, Steaua then turned it around in Bucharest in the second leg, winning by a scoreline of 3-0 to become the first Romanian club to reach a final of a European club competition. Their opponents in the final, played in the Spanish city of Seville were Spanish giants FC Barcelona, coached by Englishman Terry Venables. In a largely forgettable final which ended 0-0 after 90 minutes normal time and 30 minutes extra time, Steaua prevailed 2-0 over Barcelona in the resulting penalty shoot-out with Steaua goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam the hero, as he saved all 4 of Barcelona’s penalties in the shoot-out. With this triumph, Steaua became the first and so far only Romanian club to win a European club trophy.
However, there is some debate as to which club’s performance was better, with very valid arguments for both clubs. Steaua proved that their European Cup final victory in 1986 was no one-season wonder as they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1987-88, losing to Benfica and the final once again in 1988-89, where they lost to Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan, whereas Dinamo did not hit the same heights again after reaching the semi-finals in 1984. However, a vaild counter argument would be that Steaua on paper had a less-challenging run to the semi finals of the 1985-86 competition which they won, whereas Dinamo in 1983-84 knocked out the then European champions Hamburg in the second round. Furthermore, another strong argument in favour of Dinamo is that their run to the semi-finals in 1984 was at a time when English clubs were the dominant force in European competition, between 1974 and 1984, only Bayern Munich (1974,1975 and 1976) and Hamburg (1983) denied an English club from winning the European Cup. Steaua’s triumph in 1985-86 was the first European Cup where English clubs were banned from competing in European football competitions until the 1990-91 season after the Heysel stadium disaster. Therefore, one could argue that the European Cup was weaker between 1985 and 1990 as a competition due to the banning of the English teams who were the dominant force in Europe at the time.
This fierce debate as to which side performed better in European competitions alongside both sides establishing themselves as the dominant forces domestically as the two most successful clubs in the country added a further edge to the rivalry once spawned from both sides’ formation and associations with the Romanian Army and Romanian Police.
After the Romanian Revolution
The Romanian Revolution in December 1989 which resulted in the fall of communism and the execution of long-standing head of state Nicolae Ceausescu on Christmas Day of the same year, sparked a golden era for the Romanian national football team. Prior to the Revolution, Romanian players rarely played overseas, yet the establishment of a new government in 1990 post-Ceausescu instantly led to Europe’s elite clubs recognising the talent and value of Romanian footballers demonstrated with both Steaua and Dinamo’s performances in the European Cup. One by one, star players from the Romanian national team representing both Steaua and Dinamo left Romania to challenge themselves in foreign leagues. The list is a stellar one, Gheorghe Hagi, Gheorghe Popescu, Dan Petrescu, Marius Lacatus, Ioan Andone, Ilie Dumitrescu and Florin Raducioiu amongst others who would form part of Romania’s Golden Generation who would qualify for 5 international football tournaments (Euro 1996, Euro 2000 and the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups) over the next 10 years. In those 5 tournaments, Romania reached the quarter finals in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000, in both tournaments famously knocking out Argentina and England respectively.
Yet, despite the Romanian national team achieving success, the club game as a result of the player exodus suffered greatly. The days of both Steaua and Dinamo being strong forces in European football became just a faint memory. Two years after the fall of Ceausescu in 1992, European football and English football saw a revolution of their own with the launching of the UEFA Champions League and English Premier League respectively which began the modern-era of club football in Europe. This led to the beginning of the decline in performances in European competition amongst many central and Eastern European clubs as a result of the big money that followed being concentrated amongst the Top 5 Western European leagues of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The Bosman ruling of 1995 and start of the enlargement of the Champions League in 1997 that would see runners-up and eventually 3rd and 4th placed teams from the top leagues compete in the Champions League further accelerated the decline. Whilst Romanian clubs were no longer a force in European competitions, domestic fixtures between Steaua and Dinamo and the battles to reign supreme domestically took on even greater importance to both clubs.
At the end of the 1989-90 season, the first season to finish after the Revolution and execution of Ceausescu, Dinamo Bucharest won their 13th title and won their 14th title at the end of the 1991-92 season before the Champions League era, which at the time meant that both Steaua and Dinamo were at that time tied on 14 championships each. Whilst in the 24 completed seasons since (up until the end of the 2015-16 season), both teams rank one and two in terms of titles won in this period, Steaua have jumped way clear of Dinamo in this period, winning 12 Romanian Championships compared to Dinamo’s 4.
Despite continued domestic success, both clubs have also experienced problems which have encompassed the decline Romanian football has experienced transitioning to the post-Ceausescu and post-Bosman era. In 1998, Steaua Bucharest was finally, 8 years after the Revolution, spun-off from the army sports association CSA Steaua Bucharest who continue to run Steaua teams from other sporting codes such as Rugby Union and Basketball. Steaua, like many Romanian clubs at the time were struggling for money, however, shortly after the aforementioned spin-off, Romanian entrepreneur, Gigi Becali, a man who became wealthy in Romania’s real estate industry post Ceausescu bought a stake in Steaua, which eventually became full control of the club in 2003 from the army sports association. However, despite Steaua’s onfield success at this time both in domestic competition and in the UEFA Cup, where the club agonisingly missed out on reaching the 2005-06 UEFA Cup final after a dramatic semi-final defeat to Middlesbrough, the Romanian army had begun to investigate the deal that saw Becali take control of Steaua. The army allege that Becali’s transfer of ownership documents between him and the army for control of Steaua were fabricated, allegations that Becali denies. From 2011 onwards, a formal investigation begun into investigating whether or not the ownership documents were fabricated and in December 2014, a Romanian court ruled in favour of the Army that Becali had no right and was therefore unable to use Steaua’s crest and other badges and symbols related to the club. In the club’s first game after this ruling, Steaua had to remove the club’s logo on the players shirts, in press conferences, on advertising boards in the club’s stadium, on the players coach and even on the stadium scoreboard, which rather than displaying “Steaua”, displayed instead “Gazde”, which is the Romanian word for “hosts”.
The battle for Steaua’s name, badge and other intellectual property between Becali and the Romanian army remains ongoing, however, due to the court blocking Becali from using the Steaua crest, symbols and name, his Steaua (the Army will reform the football department of CSA Steaua Bucharest next season and start a team in the 4th tier of Romanian football) have now been renamed FCSB. There are a number of assumptions as to what the acronym FCSB could represent, it could be decoded as Football Club Steaua Bucharest, however, even more shockingly, it could be decoded as Football Club Sport Becali. Prior to the changing of the name of Becali’s Steaua to FCSB, according to Romanian journalist Emanuel Rosu, Becali reportedly threatened at one stage to name the club Football Club Sport Becali after himself if the army ultimately prove successful in winning the right to use the Steaua name before eventually backtracking due to reported negative reactions from fans.
Nonetheless, Dinamo have also had their fair share of problems in recent years too, at the conclusion of the 2013-14 football season, Dinamo filed for insolvency after its former executive chairman Mr Cristi Borcea was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for tax evasion related to the transfer of players. Furthermore, despite finishing 4th in the Romanian league in the 2015-16 season and qualifying for the 2016-17 UEFA Europa League, the poor state of the club’s finances means that they were unable to obtain a license to compete in the competition.
Despite their recent troubles, a fierce rivalry still exists between the clubs and their fans
As highlighted above, Romanian football post-Revolution in the modern football era has experienced and continues to experience considerable challenges. Nonetheless, the rivalry remains fierce between the two clubs and violent clashes between fans of both clubs have occurred in past derbies between them. However, in something that conveys the fierceness of the rivalry, some of the more recent fan violence between Steaua and Dinamo fans has occurred in matches where both clubs were not playing each other.
In September 2015, Romania and their neighbours Hungary faced each other in a Euro 2016 international qualifier in Hungary’s capital Budapest. Prior to the game in Budapest, fans from both countries had squared off against each other in violence scenes in the streets which needed riot police to break up the trouble. However, shockingly, inside the stadium during the game, some Romanian fans who had made the trip to Budapest to cheer on their country began fighting amongst each other. Reportedly, the Romanian fans that were fighting amongst each other were Steaua and Dinamo hooligans. Romania eventually ended up qualifying for the finals in France in 2016 and prior to travelling out to France to face the host nation in the tournaments opening game, the ultras of both clubs had reportedly agreed to cease hostilities between each other to get behind their country at the tournament. However, just one day after Romania’s 2-1 defeat to France in the opening game of Euro 2016, the truce was broken and violent clashes broke out between Steaua and Dinamo fans in France which reportedly began with hooligans from Steaua attacking the leader of Dinamo’s fans group which then led to a retaliation from Dinamo’s fans and the escalation of the violence.
Football rivalries would not exist without a prank being pulled on the fans of one club by fans of their rivals and the Steaua v Dinamo rivalry is no exception in this field. One could even say that the prank that was executed was one of the best planned and funniest to ever occur. Earlier this season in the final Champions League qualification round, Steaua were drawn against English giants Manchester City with the first leg of the tie taking place at Steaua’s home ground, the national stadium in Bucharest. 2016 was the 30th anniversary of Steaua’s European Cup victory and to mark the anniversary, Steaua wanted to create a pre-game mosaic-like display with all the fans at one end of the ground holding up coloured vests to create a mosaic honouring Steaua’s class of 86. Becali contacted what he believed was a company from Germany and spoke to the representative from that company to supply the coloured vests to create the mosaic. Just prior to kick-off in the game between Steaua and Manchester City, the Steaua fans on one of the long sides of the ground held up the coloured vests to create the mosaic. However, rather than paying homage to the heros of 1986, the mosaic display showed the letters Doar Dinamo Bucharest (Only Dinamo Bucharest in English) and the display was in red and white, colours associated with Dinamo rather than Steaua’s famous blue and red. It turned out that the “German company” contacted by Becali pre-game were in fact a group of Dinamo fans who had convinced Becali that they were hardcore Steaua fans and even showed Becali pictures of mosaic displays that they said they had helped organise in Germany.
Gheorghe Hagi – Arguably the finest player to play for Steaua in their modern history and the best player that Romania has ever produced, Hagi is revered in his home country and is known as Regele (The King). After making his debut and impressing at local club Farul Constanta at the age of 17 in 1982, Hagi then transferred to Bucharest-based Sportul Studentesc in 1983. Hagi spent 4 years at the modest Bucharest club before then joining Steaua in 1987 at the age of 21. Hagi was only at Steaua for 3 seasons, but his impact was enormous, he helped guide Steaua to a second European Cup final in 1989 where Steaua were beaten 4-0 by Arrigo Sacchi’s great Milan side. In his three seasons at Steaua, Hagi’s displays reported attracted interest from the likes of Milan themselves and Bayern Munich, however, the Ceausescu family, who throughout Steaua’s glory years in the 1980’s were closely involved with the club reportedly refused to allow the player to be transferred. Immediately post-Revolution however, Hagi finally got the chance to showcase himself in a superior league when at the age of 25 in 1990, he transferred to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Hagi then in 1992 joined Serie A club Brescia where he spent 2 seasons before the tournament and performances which made Hagi famous worldwide in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Pre-tournament, Romania were not one of the favourites for the World Cup, however, inspired by Hagi, they stunned the world and won countless admirers by reaching the Quarter Finals before then losing to Sweden on penalties. Immediately after this final, Hagi then transferred at the age of 29 to FC Barcelona where he spent 2 seasons before then transferring in the summer of 1996 to his final club, Turkish giants Galatasaray. At the age of 31, Hagi was like a fine wine, seemingly getting better despite his age. His performances for Galatasaray won him the admiration of their fans and he helped Galatasaray to a UEFA Cup win in 2000 and a UEFA Super Cup win later that summer against his old team Real Madrid who at that time were the Champions League holders. He finally retired in the summer of 2001 at the age of 36. After a number of spells in management which were not a great success, Hagi formed his own football club Viitorul Constanta and his own football academy which serves as Viitorul’s youth team. Hagi currently owns and manages Viitorul and recently Viitorul won their final game of the 2016-17 Romanian league thus winning an historic first title.
Anghel Iordanescu – Iordanescu is an icon for Steaua fans who dedicated nearly a whole career of service for the club. Born in May 1950 in Bucharest, Iordanescu made his Steaua debut at the age of 18 in 1968 and went on to spend 14 seasons at the club until 1982 where he amassed a total of 155 goals in 317 games making him Steaua’s leading all-time scorer. At 32 in the summer of 1982, Iordanescu then left Romania and played two seasons in the Greek league with OFI Crete before then retiring in 1984. However, immediately after retiring he became assistant manager at Steaua to Emerich Jenei. Alongside Jenei, Iordanescu helped to guide Steaua to the most famous night in their history, the 1986 European Cup victory against Barcelona. Iordanescu had pre-final briefly come out of retirement and was a substitute at the start of the game, before then entering onto the pitch in the second half to help Steaua to win the European Cup. Immediately after this final, Iordanescu was promoted to Steaua manager after Jenei left the club, one of 2 managerial spells he had at the club. Iordanescu also coached in Greece, Cyprus and the Middle East whilst also serving last summer as the Romanian national team manager during their disappointing Euro 2016 in France. He won 57 caps for the Romanian national team between 1971 and 1981 and is also a senator in the Romanian government for the National Union for the Progress of Romania party.
Cornel Dinu – An icon to all fans of Dinamo, 68 year-old former defender Dinu is Dinamo’s record appearance holder having made a total of 454 appearances for the club between 1966 and 1983 in a club career which saw him win 6 Romanian league titles and Romanian footballer of the year 3 times. Dinu was also part of the Romanian national team squad who played at the 1970 FIFA World Cup and impressively competed against both England and Brazil. Immediately after retiring, Dinu turned his attention to coaching and took charge of Dinamo for the 1984-85 season. This was the first of four stints in charge of Dinamo for Dinu, with his third stint between 1998 and 2001 being the most successful as he won the 1999-00 Romanian Cup with the club before a season later winning the Romanian league in 2000-01.
Key games down the years
8th June 1988 – Steaua 3-3 Dinamo – Romanian League
One of the derby’s highest scoring games which took place at a time when Romanian club football and in particular the two fierce rivals were at their strongest throughout their history. After 15 minutes, Steaua and Romanian legend Hagi gave them the lead before Claudiu Vascovici equalised for Dinamo courtesy of a penalty in the 32nd minute. Goals from Marius Lacatus and a second from Hagi gave Steaua a 3-1 lead in the fixture, before Dinamo hit back courtesy of goals from Rodion Camataru and the aforementioned Vascovici and made the score 3-3.
12th June 1985 – Steaua 5-0 Dinamo – Romanian Cup Semi-Final
This victory by Steaua remains to this day their largest against Dinamo and was dished out by the strongest side in the club’s history who just under a year later would go on to shock Barcelona in the European Cup final in Seville. Goals from Gabi Balint, Marius Lacatus and Victor Piturca sealed an historic triumph for Steaua over their bitter rivals.
02nd May 1990 – Dinamo 6-4 Steaua – Romanian Cup Final
Whilst Steaua well and truly put Dinamo in their place in the 1985 Cup Semi Final, Dinamo very much painted Bucharest red just 5 years later by beating their fierce rivals in the highest scoring match between the two sides that was ever played. The highlight of this final, of which there was several was a hat trick scored by Dinamo’s then 20 year-old forward Florin Raducioiu. Radicioiu subsequently went on to have a career which included an unsuccessful spell at West Ham United in England, which saw him play in all 5 of the top European leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain), one of only 2 men, the other being Cristian Poulsen to do so and he remains the only man to this day to score in all of the top 5 European leagues.
26th June 1988 – Steaua 2-1 Dinamo – Romanian Cup Final* – *Later recinded by Steaua and now unassigned
A fierce rivalry like Steaua v Dinamo would not be complete without a strong moment of controversy which eventually ended up transgressing the sporting side of this rivalry. In the 90th minute, the scores between the 2 hated rivals were locked at 1-1 when the controversy struck. After a cross by Hagi into the Dinamo penalty area, Dinamo’s goalkeeper, when coming out to claim the cross fumbled the ball and the ball fell into the possession of Steaua striker Gabi Balint who slotted home what he and Steaua thought was a match winner. However, the referee and his assistants ruled that Balint was offside and disallowed the goal. Steaua’s players were incensed at the call and protested to the referee, however his decision stood. Instantly, Steaua’s players marched off the pitch in protest ordered by Steaua’s then-club president, Valentin Ceausescu, son of leader Nicolae and did not return. As a result, Dinamo were awarded the cup win by default, however, the following day, the Ceausescu government overruled the referee’s decision claiming that the offside goal should have stood and subsequently awarded Steaua the cup by a scoreline of 2-1. Immediately after Ceausescu’s overthrow and execution, Steaua offered Dinamo the 1988 Cup that the Ceausescu regime had assigned them, however, feeling that it was tainted, Dinamo refused to accept it and so even to this day, the cup remains unassigned.
The marching off the pitch and assigning of the Cup to Steaua by Ceausescu was not the only controversial statement of the day though. Ioan Andone of Dinamo Bucharest, who at that time was a 28-year old Romanian international and was aware of Valentin Ceausescu’s order to march the Steaua players off the pitch made an obscene gesture to Ceausescu. As a result of this action, which given how strict the Ceausescu regime was in Romania, Andone was suspended from playing for both his club and country for a period of 1 year. The actions in the Western Romanian city of Timisoara in the winter of 1989 were the official catalyst for the Romanian Revolution which overthrew Ceausescu, however, Andone’s brave act of defiance against the Ceausescu regime could be viewed as an early sign of discontent at the regime, which just under 18 months later lead to its downfall.
Whilst Steaua and Dinamo have both failed to make an impact in European competitions post-Revolution, they have experienced and continue to experience problems themselves and could now also see their dominance now under threat from the aforementioned Viitorul Constanta, ironically, the inspirational project formed by former Steaua hero Hagi. The matches and rivalry between both clubs remains iconic and still manages to breathe life into Romanian club football which has struggled post-Revolution.
Read all other articles from our Rivals series here
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