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FOR THE first time in Terry Venables' five-match reign as England coach, the opposition lived up to their advance billing.
Romania, World Cup quarter-finalists, showed last night how much progress England still have to make. . Ahead after 36 minutes through Ilie Dumitrescu, they showed a touch and technique rarely achieved by English players. The goal, which must have brought a smile from Dumitrescu's club chairman at Tottenham, Alan Sugar, was the first conceded by England under Venables.
After going behind, England looked as if they might be overwhelmed. But a surprise debut goal from Robert Lee sent them in level at half- time with their confidence revived, and they matched Romania in the second period. England might have won, Alan Shearer going close with an excellent late effort, but one always felt the visitors had something in reserve.
Venables said later that he felt England lacked confidence. There were certainly a number of unusually quiet performances, especially in midfield, where the injured Darren Anderton's crossing ability was missed. Matthew Le Tissier, usually so nerveless, also seemed affected by the occasion. Though periodically influential, he never dominated in the way Venables had hoped when he gave him his free-ranging role.
Le Tissier's performance, and the outcome of the match, might have been very different had he succeeded with a marvellous piece of skill in the ninth minute. Paul Ince, who had already been involved in a couple of tackles that proved how competitive the match was, won the ball, which rolled to Le Tissier 25 yards out. Flicking the ball up with his right foot to evade a challenge, he volleyed with his left, the shot going just over the bar.
It was a moment as good as anything produced by the Romanians and underlined that, although he may not have matched the high expectations this time, his talent is worth persevering with.
Some neat passing, ending with a shot over the bar from Florin Raducioiu, was Romania's instant response. For all their possession, however, it was England who created the next clear chance.
Rob Jones, as if to emphasise the fluidity of Venables' England, was the key figure. The right-back played a one-two with Barnes and burst into the box, but appeared to have carried the ball too far. When he managed to pull it back, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright were left static and poorly placed.
Wright, more positive than previously at this level, was frequently involved and regularly won free-kicks. One, for a trip by Dorinel Munteanu, earned the Romanian a booking that seemed particularly harsh given that Ince had earlier escaped after a very late tackle on Gheorghe Popescu. Throughout the match, offences that would have brought bookings in the Premiership were allowed to pass unchecked by the French World Cup referee, Joel Quiniou.
Romania, who fielded most of their World Cup side, went ahead after finally managing to deliver a decent final ball into the box. Petrescu, found by Hagi, advanced into the inside-right channel as Marius Lacatus drew Graeme Le Saux down the left. He curled in a cross and Dumitrescu, who had dropped off Tony Adams and was being played on-side by Rob Jones, volleyed it precisely past David Seaman.
As England sought to recover their poise Romania, who strung together 16 passes in one move, looked to close the game up. The effervescent Wright intervened, perking up the home side with a neat dribble and fierce shot.
Lifted, England pushed forward and a minute into injury time found an equaliser. Le Saux crossed from deep on the left and Shearer headed down to Lee, who ran past two Romanians to poke the ball past Stelea.
England's renewed confidence was evident after the interval and ought to have been rewarded in the 51st minute. Shearer, for once breaking free, bore down on the Romanian goal only for Popescu to pull him back. In domestic football this season that would have merited a sending-off. The booking and consequent free-kick, headed tamely into Stelea's arms by Shearer, were insufficient punishment.
Shearer could have gained revenge 14 minutes from time when Dennis Wise, one of sevral substitutes, squared, but Daniel Prodan's shin deflected his shot wide.
One England aim had been achieved before a ball was kicked when the Romanian anthem was heard in relatively respectful silence. The team may have some work to do before the 1996 European Championship, but the supporters are well on course already.
ENGLAND (4-4-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Jones (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester United), Le Saux (Blackburn); Lee (Newcastle), Le Tissier (Southampton), Ince (Manchester United), Barnes (Liverpool); Shearer (Blackburn), Wright (Arsenal). Substitute: Pearce (Nottingham Forest) for Jones, 59; Wise (Chelsea) for Lee, 71; Sheringham (Tottenham) for Wright, 71.
ROMANIA (3-1-5-1): Stelea (Samsunspor); Petrescu (Sheffield Wednesday), Belodedici (Real Valladolid), Prodan (Steaua Bucharest); Popescu (Tottenham); Lacatus (Steaua Bucharest), Lupescu (Bayer Leverkusen), Hagi (Barcelona), Munteanu (Cercle Bruges), Dumitrescu (Tottenham); Raducioiu (Espanol). Substitutes: Selymes (Cercle Bruges) for Hagi, h-t; Timofte (Samsunspor) for Raducioiu, 77; Cirstea (National Bucharest) for Lacatus, 81; Prunea (Dinamo Bucharest) for Stelea, 87.
Referee: J Quiniou (France).
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