World Cup Football: Raducioiu's raid leaves Wales bereft: Bodin and Southall blunders set to haunt Welsh

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The Independent Online
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ONCE again Wales fell at the last, suffering their first Arms Park defeat since 1910 in the process, although this time they were undone by Romania's excellence and their own errors rather than the forces of malign fate.

The cacophonous outpouring of hwyl which had greeted Terry Yorath's team turned to howls of anguish as Florin Raducioiu - surplus to Milan's requirements - scored the 82nd-minute goal which ensured that Romania topped Group Four and eclipsed once and for all Welsh visions of an Atlantic crossing.

The night ended in tragedy when a Welsh spectator, believed to be in his sixties, died seconds after the final whistle after being struck in the throat by a flare fired across the pitch into the North Stand. Police said the man appeared to have had a heart attack upon being hit, before suffering a fatal loss of blood.

In truth, the game was up for Wales from the moment Paul Bodin sent a 61st-minute penalty against the Romanian crossbar. The Swindon full-back's miss came just 60 seconds after Dean Saunders had cancelled out the opening goal by Gheorghe Hagi, itself the result of a gaffe by Neville Southall.

Had Bodin's aim been true, an atmosphere that was already highly charged might well have overwhelmed Romania. Instead, a familiar fatalism swept over the stands, Hagi regained midfield ascendancy and Raducioiu applied the coup de grace.

The news from Belgium, where the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks failed to achieve the victory they needed to qualify, compounded Welsh woes. The 2-1 victory that was within their grasp at the time of the spot-kick award - by Kurt Rothlisberger, the referee involved in the Eric Cantona controversy in Istanbul - would have secured their place in the finals.

It will be no consolation that they were denied by a manifestly more skilful side, who counter-attacked with pace and precision as well as looking comfortable to the point of arrogance in possession. Romania may not win the World Cup, but in Hagi, Raducioiu and the Dutch- based libero, Miodrag Belodedici, they possess players who will grace the global stage. Wales, by comparison, were merely workmanlike. The hoped-for flashes of genius from Ryan Giggs did not materialise, their better opportunities falling to two defenders shortly before half- time. Eric Young was first to exploit Romania's lack of aerial prowess at set-pieces, only for Florin Prunea to touch over his goal- bound header, while Andy Melville directed a similar effort tantalisingly wide.

By then, Romania were already in front and had struck the woodwork through Daniel Petrescu as early as the 11th minute. Ironically, Hagi's 32nd-minute goal owed less to the venom of his speculative low shot from 25 yards than to Southall's misjudged dive over the ball, as bad a blunder as the veteran keeper can have made in 71 internationals.

Misses early in the second half by Ovidiu Sabau, whose chipped shot drifted just over, and Hagi, volleying wastefully wide after brilliantly creating the opening for himself, appeared suddenly costly when Wales equalised on the hour. Giggs's free-kick was helped on in a crowded penalty area by Young and Gary Speed before Saunders stabbed the ball home from point- blank range.

Almost immediately, Speed tumbled under challenge by Petrescu. Bodin, who had never previously missed a penalty for Wales, thumped the ball against Prunea's crossbar whereupon it was frantically cleared.

Raducioiu spurned a simple chance in the 69th minute, blazing the ball over the bar after another jinking run by the irrepressible Hagi. The respite lasted only 13 minutes: Ilie Dumitrescu played the ball in low from the left, and Raducioiu met it 10 yards out with a right-footed shot which passed between the hapless Southall's legs before billowing the net amid an eerie silence.

It was a wretchedly anti-climactic way for Yorath's 100th match with the national team - his 41st as manager following 59 caps as a player - to end. Had Wales qualified, his contract would have run on to the end of next summer's showpiece. Now it is due to expire today.

WALES (1-4-3-2): Southall (Everton); Melville (Sunderland); Phillips (Nottingham Forest), Young (Crystal Palace), Symons (Portsmouth), Bodin (Swindon); Horne (Everton), Speed (Leeds), Giggs (Manchester United); Saunders (Aston Villa), Rush (Liverpool). Substitutes: Goss (Norwich) for Symons, 53; Allen (Newcastle) for Bodin, 70.

ROMANIA (1-4-4-1): Prunea (Dinamo Bucharest); Belodedici (Valencia); Petrescu (Genoa), Prodin, Lupescu (both Steaua Bucharest), Selymes (Cercle Bruges); Popescu (PSV Eindhoven), Sabau (Brescia), Hagi (Brescia), Dumitrescu (Steaua Bucharest); Raducioiu (Milan). Substitutes: Mihali (Dinamo Bucharest) for Dumitrescu, 89.

Referee: K Rothlisberger (Swit).

----------------------------------------------------------------- FINAL GROUP FOUR TABLE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Romania 10 7 1 2 29 12 15 Belgium 10 7 1 2 16 5 15 RCS 10 4 5 1 21 9 13 Wales 10 5 2 3 19 12 12 Cyprus 10 2 1 7 8 18 5 Faroe Islands 10 0 0 10 1 38 0 -----------------------------------------------------------------