Moldova lift the curtain on eastern talent

Norman Fox casts an enquiring eye over England's unsung opponents
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The Independent Online
Moldovans are new to World Cup football. In fact, Moldovans are new to most things international - including a sort of democracy and a free but expensive market economy. They export sturdy red wine and, occasionally, footballers. And they say they are better prepared to challenge the wine producers of Bordeaux than face the football of England a week today.

Moldova has existed as a separate state from the former Soviet Union for such a short time that the building of sport has not been a priority. But even in the earlier Communist age, their best club team, Nistru, from the capital city of Chisinau, only once finished above sixth place in the Soviet league.

The Moldovan national side are unlikely to cause England too many problems, yet they surprised Wales by winning 3-2 then losing only 1-0 to them in the preliminaries of the last European Championship. However, Germany showed them what they could expect at a higher level of competition by winning 3-0 and 6-1. The Germans said they never felt particularly threatened but that Moldova had some bright individuals.

More recent results have included a 3-0 loss in Romania and a 2-0 defeat in Turkey this month, which have come as disappointments not so much to the Moldovan football authorities, who expected them, but to the players, who are desperate to join western clubs. While their income is above the national average, they are aware of the riches other eastern European players have obtained abroad. Probably only the captain, Alexander Courteanu, who plays in midfield, has the ability to hold down a Premiership place. The main problems are that few Moldovans have any real interest in football, few players have real experience, and the present team are too small in stature.

Moldova felt confident tackling the Welsh, whom they thought came from a small country, like their own. England, says the Moldovan Football Federation president, Petru Comendant, have too many advantages to think of an upset against them. Wales found Moldova to be full of enterprise but lacking in finishing power. "They are very good technically," the Wales manager, Bobby Gould, said. "They showed us how we ought to be playing a short passing game and moving well off the ball. If they could finish their moves as well as they build them, they'd be a good team."