Football: Romania's show of age concern

Romania 1 Ilie 45 Colombia 0 Att: 37,572
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The Independent Online
ROMANIA MOVED into second place behind England in Group G with a 1-0 victory over a disappointing Colombian side in Lyons' Stade Gerland yesterday. A well-taken goal in first-half injury time by Adrian Ilie of the Spanish side Valencia allowed the Romanians to retreat into defensive mode throughout the second half.

England, who meet Romania in their next match in Toulouse on Monday, would have seen little to cause them concern. It was a competent, well- organised performance from an ageing side, but their captain, Gheorge Hagi, long the hub of the team, looked jaded and lethargic, a shadow of his glory days.

Coventry City's Viorel Moldovan always looked dangerous in the first half, but his team-mates may have felt like sending him to Coventry when he should have scored with a relatively easy tap in on the quarter-hour mark.

The Colombian goalkeeper, Farid Mondragon, made a brilliant save from Ilie and recovered to block Moldovan's shot from only six yards out and a third effort from Ilie was stopped by the defence.

The stadium clock showed 25 seconds into first-half injury time when Hagi, in one of his few successful moves, backheeled the ball towards Ilie on the left. The ball struck the Colombian defender Ever Palacios and fell kindly for Ilie, who spotted Mondragon off his line and lofted a clever shot in at the far post.

With Adolfo "The Train" Valencia replacing Victor Aristizabal alongside the former Newcastle player Faustino Asprilla, Colombia looked livelier but rarely troubled the Romanian goalkeeper, Bogdan Stelea. Asprilla, who has not finished a match for the Italian side Parma after recovering from injury, was again substituted, with seven minutes left.

Along with the Colombian coach, Hernan Dario Gomez, Aristizabal had received death threats in the run-up to the finals, because few Colombians felt he was the man to partner Asprilla up front.

Colombians remember only too well their last World Cup experience in the United States in 1994, when the defender Andres Escobar, who scored an own goal against the US, was shot dead on returning to his home city of Medellin.

Playing a 3-5-2 formation, the Romanians looked well-drilled in midfield and both Ilie and Moldovan looked lively and dangerous throughout the first half, posing a constant threat.

Chelsea's Dan Petrescu, who had a steady game, was one of three Romanians shown the yellow card after he back-tackled the Colombian midfielder Fredy Rincon.

The many Colombian fans in the crowd sporting peroxide-curl wigs to look like Carlos Valderrama were disappointed in their hero. He made little impression on the first half, improved in the second but rarely looked like splitting open a Romanian defence often packed with eight players.

Gomez said after the match that his team had been too fearful of their opponents. "The team went on to the pitch very timidly, there was no spontaneity. A lot of the players were nervous," Gomez said.

"In the second half we fought and we had plenty of goalscoring chances. We didn't get the right result, but Romania didn't deserve it either. Now we have to find our cohesion and make sure we win next time."

Meanwhile, his opposite number, Anghel Iordanescu, said he was delighted with the victory. "The team played great - especially in the first half, but the second half was a bit more difficult."

Apart from the wigs, it was almost impossible to tell the two well- behaved sets of fans apart. Both countries' flags have the same red, yellow and blue colour and Colombia turned out in blue, instead of their usual yellow, to allow the Romanians to stick with their all- yellow strip.

Apart from the fast-moving Ilie and Moldovan, England will also have to keep an eye on Valencia when they meet Colombia in their final first- round match in Lens on 26 June.

ROMANIA (3-5-2): Stelea (Salamanca); Petrescu (Chelsea), Gheorghe Popescu (Galatasaray), Ciobotariu (National Bucharest); Galca (Espanyol), Munteanu (Cologne), Hagi (Galatasaray), Gabriel Popescu (Salamanca), Filipescu (Galatasaray); Moldovan (Coventry City), Ilie (Valencia). Substitutes: Stanga (PSV Eindhoven) for Gabriel Popescu, 69; Marinescu (Rapid Bucharest) for Hagi, 77; Niculescu (National Bucharest) for Moldovan, 85.

COLOMBIA (4-4-2): Mondragon (Independiente); Palacios (Atletico Nacional), Santa (Atletico Nacional), Bermudez (Boca Juniors), Cabrera (Millonarios); Serna (Boca Juniors), Lozano (Valladolid), Valderrama (Miami Fusion), Rincon (Corinthians); Asprilla (Parma), Aristizabal (Sao Paulo). Substitutes: Valencia (Independiente) for Aristizabal, 46); Preciado (Santa Fe Bogota) for Asprilla, 85.

Referee: An-Yan Lim Kee Chong (Mauritius).