Football: World Cup - Croatia top of Romania's hit list

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THE JUBILANT coach and players of Romania, still on a high the morning after beating England 2-1, said yesterday that they would prefer to meet the World Cup novices Croatia in the next round.

A draw in their last Group G game against Tunisia will guarantee Romania first place and a game against the second-placed side in Group H, currently Croatia. But Argentina could also finish runners-up, setting up a repeat of the thrilling second round game four years ago which Romania won 3- 2.

"I prefer Croatia, but at this level no games are easy, not for any team," Anghel Iordanescu, the Romanian coach, said at a champagne reception to mark the departure of the team from their secluded hotel in Albi, in south- western France.

Croatia, who are appearing in their first World Cup, have won both their matches so far. "At this level it doesn't matter who we meet, since both teams have very good players. Perhaps I would prefer Croatia, because they don't have too much experience," midfielder Gabriel Popescu said.

Veteran playmaker Gheorghe Hagi and striker Viorel Moldovan - who combined for the first goal on Monday night - also said they would prefer to meet the Croatians.

"Technically we can beat anyone. Our players have plenty of experience of winning at the highest levels in Europe," Hagi said, who insisted the ageing team had no problems with stamina. "I don't think there are any physical shortcomings. We can give our all for at least 75 minutes." he said.

The players and their normally dour coach, who have kept themselves at a great distance from the press, were in excellent spirits.

Even Iordanescu's face was creased in smiles as he thanked the mayor of Albi and the management of the team's luxury hotel, further evidence if needed of how important the win over England had been.

More than 50,000 Romanians chanted and danced in Bucharest streets early yesterday to celebrate the national team's win against England. Within minutes of the final whistle in Toulouse, vast crowds poured into University Square, the traditional site of large gatherings, blowing horns and setting off firecrackers.

For more than two hours revellers streamed through side streets and into the capital's principal boulevard, with children and teenage girls hoisted on shoulders. "Romania! Romania!" chanted clusters of fans, who formed large circles to dance the traditional Romanian hora.

Large crowds poured through Bucharest four years ago when Romania reached the quarter-finals in the US. University Square was the site of clashes between troops and students in the December 1989 uprising. Tens of thousands gathered there last year to meet the US President, Bill Clinton.

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