Football / World Cup USA '94: Iordanescu's tactics built on faith: Romania's belief in their coach's master plan proves too strong for Argentina. Ken Jones reports

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ABOUT an hour after Romania dumped Argentina out of the World Cup, a question was put to Anghel Iordanescu that he was not keen to answer. Away from his players, Romania's coach is essentially a shy man and now he was feeling proud and emotional. Why, you could imagine him thinking, do they want to know about this.

It concerned the silver object Iordanescu held tight in his right hand when only a few minutes separated Romania from a famous victory. Footballers in the main are superstitious. Iordanescu is religious. A believer. Devout. Since the overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu's evil regime he has been able state his faith openly. His fingers had closed around a small cross given to him by a revered 78-year old priest. 'A saintly man,' Iordanescu said, 'a great man in Romania.'

Careful that nobody should infer a request for divine intervention, Iordanescu went on to state confidence in his team's integrity and declare that their feat was almost overwhelming. 'From all that I know, this was the greatest moment in the history of Romanian football,' he said. 'The greatest day for Romanian people since the revolution. To defeat Argentina was something magnificent and I want to congratulate our players for the way they stuck together, giving everything until they had nothing left to give. The way they carried out our tactics.'

Iordanescu took no credit for himself but he deserved plenty. To compensate for the suspension of his principal striker, Florin Raducioiu, and to protect the back line from Argentina's swiftly delivered frontal assaults, Iordanescu packed out his midfield as the basis for counter-attacks.

The result was a match so intensely thrilling that it raised comparison with the past. This World Cup lost a lot when it lost the thrilling swirl of Argentina's attacks but respect for Romania increases.

Inevitably this embraces Gheorghe Hagi who has been prominent in previous dispatches. Another outstanding performance at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena added greatly to his burgeoning status as the tournament's outstanding performer. The audience was predominantly in favour of Argentina but when Hagi was substituted shortly before full-time he got a standing ovation.

This was understandable. Cunningly, deftly, Hagi made a goal for Ilie Dumitrescu and, accepting a favour in return, scored Romania's third with an unstoppable rising shot. Even the least tutored spectator could appreciate his excellence. Argentina had men posted to deal with Hagi but a lot of the time they had difficulty finding him.

Something similar applied to the problems Argentina found with Dumitrescu, a winger of deceiving pace who clearly knows where the goal is. To Dumitrescu fell the burden of spearheading Romania's counter-attacks and he performed the task perfectly after opening the score with a sensational free-kick.

Sometimes you look at a game and despair of seeing anything even remotely exciting. To take your eyes off this one for a moment was to risk missing something memorable.

Had Argentina been able to call upon their falled idol, Diego Maradona, who watched the match for television, and the injured Claudio Caniggia, it might have been a different story. Nevertheless, their contribution was stunning. Adventurous to a fault, they hurled themselves at Romania's packed defence, getting close to attainment but not close enough. It was an heroic effort but no less could be thought about the Romanians who linked arms at the end to form a joyful carousel.

Argentina's coach, Alfio Basile, a strong man, took defeat philosophically. 'We have suffered a lot here, but I think we have given a good account of ourselves,' he said. 'There is always another Mundial and the players have shown that Argentine football is strong, that we are among the best in the world. We were caught cold in the first half but in the second we were much superior. I am sad for the players because they were coming into such good form.'

Doubtless, thinking about Argentina's dreadful behaviour in Italy for years ago, Basile then made an important statement. 'It is good that we lost with dignity,' he said.

The inquiry into Diego Maradona's failed drugs test will be held next month, probably in Zurich. Sepp Blatter, Fifa's general secretary, said the hearing would be conducted 'very carefully and thoroughly. The case itself is very clear but you have to put it into the human context of this player whom I have known personally since 1977'.

(Photographs omitted)