Football: Petrescu converted by Hoddle's gospel

Conrad Leach finds Romania's wing-back has much for which to thank the England coach
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PERHAPS he knows it, perhaps not, but one of Glenn Hoddle's greatest admirers is in the Romanian camp. The England coach will get no favours for 90 minutes tomorrow night in Toulouse, but whatever the result Dan Petrescu will still look up to Hoddle, and with good reason.

The Romanian wing-back, who has 68 caps, has Hoddle to thank for rescuing his club career in England and preventing his international prospects from going into decline. After a bright start in the Premiership with Sheffield Wednesday, who bought him after his leading role in Romania's run to the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals, he stagnated at Hillsborough and seemed set to join the growing list of Romanian misfits in England - two of his closest friends, Gica Popescu and Ilie Dumitrescu, at Tottenham, and Florin Raducoiu, who only lasted six months at West Ham. For those latter two, going to England was the beginning of the end of their international careers.

Salvation came in the shape of a call in October 1995 from Hoddle, then Chelsea's manager, who wanted to exploit Petrescu's attack-minded nature on the right flank and paid a then joint club record transfer fee of pounds 2.3m for him. Although Hoddle took over as England coach only eight months later, that was long enough for him to leave a huge and lasting impression on Petrescu, who was a runner-up with Steaua Bucharest in the 1989 European Cup final and played for three years in Italy, with Genoa and Foggia.

"England surprised everybody by qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Italy and by forcing the goalless draw in Rome," he said. "Yet I wasn't surprised because Glenn Hoddle is the best coach I've ever had in my life. He has made the team understand what he wants. If they can reproduce the quality they showed in Rome they can win the World Cup.

"They showed in Le Tournoi last summer they can beat almost everybody so I think Brazil, Germany and England will fight it out, and Italy. I don't think Romania can win it."

Which is not to say that Romania will simply roll over tomorrow night. The core of the 1994 team, who lost to Sweden on penalties with Petrescu missing one, still remains and for many of them, including Petrescu who is now 30, this will be their last World Cup. While some might argue it is a World Cup too far, Petrescu counters that is their motivation.

And Romania, who felt the draw did them no favours despite being seeded, are feeling confident again. They were less than convincing in their warm-up friendlies and were heavily criticised, which led to the players refusing to talk to their own press. But Adrian Ilie's goal which saw them beat Colombia 1-0 on Monday has proved once again what they are capable of.

Petrescu says: "We deserved to beat Colombia and that result has put us on the way. Our manager [Anghel Iordanescu] told us if we worked hard we could win. Now we are going for England and we can be confident. I know their style well, and of course I will face my Chelsea teammate Graeme Le Saux. We will also have to defend as well as we did against Colombia but when we have players such as Ilie, Gheorghe Hagi and Viorel Moldovan, we can score at any time."

Qualification for the second round would bring immense satisfaction to the Romanian squad, who have fallen out of love with their supporters since their brilliant displays four years ago. They were written off after losing all three games at Euro 96 ; their last World Cup qualifier was not even shown on national television and their last home qualifier only drew a crowd of 5,000. "Before, we used to play for the country. The fans were amazing after USA 94 - there were over two million on the streets when we reached the quarter-finals. But now we do it for ourselves. We are a family within the squad, and we have a perfect atmosphere."

Tomorrow night in Toulouse Glenn Hoddle might just regret being Dan Petrescu's saviour.