The presence of four high-quality teams in Group B made it certain that we would be bidding farewell to some very special players when that section concluded its fixtures. One such player is Gheorghe Hagi.
Thirteen years ago a crowd of under 9,000 at Oslo's Ullevaal stadium saw the start of an outstanding international career when Hagi made his debut in midfield for Romania at the age of 18. Cap No 100 arrived at Elland Road on Tuesday, where Romania's 2-1 loss to Spain, their third defeat of Euro 96, brought their tournament to an end.
Although he has not said as much, it might also be the end of 31-year- old Hagi's international career. His club future is uncertain - he had a disappointing season with Barcelona, where his contract has expired - and it is hard to imagine him still being a potent force at the 1998 World Cup.
Even in defeat against the Spaniards, there were flashes of the talents which made Hagi one of the respected playmakers in Europe during the 1990s. Romania's first and last goal of Euro 96, scored with panache by Florin Raducioiu, was set up by a precise through ball from Hagi. It was, though, merely a consolation.
Hagi remains the most expensive Romanian player of all time, having cost Real Madrid almost pounds 3m when they signed him from Steaua Bucharest in June 1990 after the World Cup in Italy. After two years in Madrid he moved on to Brescia, in Italy. He has rarely fulfilled his potential with his clubs in western Europe, however, and it is his displays at USA '94, when Romania reached the last four, that will linger longest in the memory.
Double dose of despair for Dutch
After Tuesday's 4-1 defeat by England, the Dutch team were labelled "the laughing stock of Euro 96" by the Netherlands' best-selling newspaper, De Telegraaf, yesterday.
"Shocking, bewildering, disgraceful and scandalous," De Telegraaf continued, adding: "Never has a team appeared so keen to be dumped out of a tournament. The Dutch team is the joke of Euro 96."
Dutch correspondents dug deep into their record books to find that the defeat was the Netherlands' heaviest for 21 years. "Dutch dull guests at English soccer party," said the broadsheet De Volkskrant, recalling the last time, in 1975, that the Dutch lost by three goals, in Poland.
A similar approach came from Algemeen Dagblad: "The Dutch were humiliated by England... and should be ashamed." Only by virtue of scoring more goals than Scotland did the Netherlands manage to squeeze into the quarter-finals, where they will meet France on Saturday.
"Vy uz nebudete zpirat!"
No 10: Pint of strong bitter in pub near Old Trafford: pounds 2.20. Normal price: pounds 1.60.
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