Romania became the first team to go out of Euro 96 as ill fortune bedevilled them at St James' Park yesterday. On Monday a slip by their goalkeeper condemned them to a defeat by the French; this time it was an error by officialdom that cost them at least a draw and their place in the tournament.
With no points from two Group B games, even if they win their final match against Spain at Elland Road on Tuesday it will not be enough for them to survive. It was an unjust outcome to a match in which a television replay proved they should have had an equaliser.
The "goal" that never was came on the half hour when Gheorghe Hagi dummied to send over a long cross from a corner on the right and then played it instead to the corner of the area to Dorinel Munteanu. The Cologne midfield player crashed his 25-yard drive against the bar, the ball bounced down and then out, and, as the Romanians protested, Trifon Ivanov headed the ball away.
Unlike England's third goal in the World Cup final of 1966, there would not be arguments raging about it 30 years later, because the television replay showed that the ball had crossed the line by about a foot. When the subject of a television-armed second referee in the stands comes before the game's governing body, Fifa, expect Romania to vote for it.
The result was even less satisfactory, because the Romanians dominated the second half, often pinning the Bulgarians into their own area. In the first half, though, it was Hristo Stoichkov who made his mark.
The Bulgarian striker scored a goal after two minutes that even great players rarely achieve at this level. Receiving a pass 40 yards out from the game's best player, Krasimir Balakov, he turned so sharply that his marker, Miodrag Belodedici, slipped. Free to run at the Romanian rearguard, Stoichkov dummied to his left to give himself an extra yard and, as he entered the area, stabbed the ball with his left foot instead of the expected right, squeezing the ball past Bogdan Stelea.
Some teams would have crumpled against such genius but Romania battered at the Bulgarian door in search of survival. Hagi had a free-kick punched away from the top corner by Bobby Mikhailov, Daniel Prodan nearly found the net with a diving header after 68 minutes, even in injury time Prodan almost made the most of a scramble in the area, his shot shaving a post. The equaliser did not come and, indeed, the best chance of the second half fell to their opponents when Nasko Sirakov back-heeled audaciously to put Yordan Lechkov clear. A second Bulgarian goal would have added insult to injustice and it was only right that Stelea blocked the shot.
Goal: Stoichkov (3) 1-0.
BULGARIA (4-3-1-2): Mikhailov (Reading); Kishishev (Neftochimik Bourgas), Yankov (Bayer Uerdingen), Ivanov (Rapid Vienna), Tsvetanov (Waldhof Mannheim); Lechkov (Hamburg), Balakov (VfB Stuttgart), Yordanov (Sporting Lisbon); Stoichkov (Parma); Kostadinov (Bayern Munich), Penev (Atletico Madrid). Substitutes: Borimirov (1860 Munich) for Kostadinov, 32; Sirakov (Slavia Sofia) for Penev, 71; Genchev (Luton Town) for Lechkov, 89.
ROMANIA (4-3-1-2): Stelea (Steaua Bucharest); Petrescu (Chelsea), Belodedici (Villareal), Prodan (Steaua Bucharest), Selymes (Anderlecht); Lupescu (Bayer Leverkusen), Popescu (Barcelona), Munteanu (Cologne); Hagi (Barcelona); Lacatus (Steaua Bucharest), Raducioiu (Espanol). Substitutes: Moldovan (Neuchatel Xamax) for Lacatus, 28; Galca (Steaua Bucharest) for Lupescu, h-t; Ilie (Steaua Bucharest) for Popescu, 78.
Referee: P Mikkelsen (Denmark).
Bookings: Bulgaria: Kishishev, Tsvetanov.
Man of the match: Balakov. Attendance: 19,107.Reuse content