World Cup: Romania stay relaxed
Monday 22 June 1998
Grateful for the cool breeze that coincided with their arrival on the banks of the river Garronne, the Romanians proved more agreeable than expected, raising no objection to scrutiny and interrogation.
In such circumstances the work being done is of no more value in assessment than watching a fighter shape up to his reflection of a golfer on the practice ground. Importantly, however, there was nothing to suggest that Romania's coach, Anghel Iordanescu, is the least bit concerned by the slight injuries reported last week after the 1-0 defeat of Colombia in Lyons.
Apart from the first-choice goalkeeper, Bogdan Stelea, whose confinement to the touchline was explained as a precautionary measure, all the Romanians took part in the vigorous six-aside matches that followed the usual routine of stretching exercises.
Of greater concern to Iordanescu is the rift caused between his players (nothing new in football) and the Romanian press corps by criticism of Stelea following the 2-2 draw to which Romania were held by Paraguay when preparing for the World Cup finals. "It has been very silly," one of the Romanian sports writers said. "Our supporters saw Paraguay as a little team we should have beaten easily and they took it out on Stelea for making a couple of bad mistakes. Stelea didn't help matters when he made an obscene gesture to the crowd but we [the press] are held to blame by the players for not standing by him, so now they don't speak to us."
Meanwhile, Iordanescu appears confident that his team can give England plenty of trouble in Toulouse, pointing out that Romania's colours have not been lowered by them since a 1-0 defeat at the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico. "Partly from what I've seen, partly from speaking with Dan Petrescu [the Chelsea wing back has been heavily involved in the build- up to tonight's match], I know about technical developments in English football," Iordanescu said. "But if England no longer concentrate so much on direct play, they still send in lots of centres and are very strong physically."
Apparently, it is not in Iordanescu's mind to play for the point that would put Romania within reach of qualification for the second round. "That would be a dangerous policy," he said. "We have enough technical ability and World Cup experience to win the match and although I have been told that England are very confident, they may be worried about us, especially as they gave up opportunities for Tunisia to score against them last week in Marseilles."
When watching Romania for Glenn Hoddle last week, Dave Sexton was most impressed by the composed progress they made from defence to attack. "It wasn't easy to get a read on them, because Colombia never put their game together," Sexton said when we spoke by telephone over the weekend.
"But Romania looked very relaxed with good team work and a fluid system. Colombia left Asprilla up on his own in the first half and as he didn't do much other than complain [probably the main reason why Colombia dumped him]. Romania's defenders weren't put under a great deal of pressure."
Operating a version of 4-4-2 with Gheorghe Popescu - who still mutters darkly about his time at Tottenham - as the covering central defender, Romania continue to draw inspiration from Gheorghe Hagi. At 32, and after 111 appearances for his country, Hagi remains the strolling orchestrator of Romania's offensive play, wandering in midfield, sometimes taking a rest out wide to replenish his energy.
Hagi, too, dismisses the idea that caution would be Romania's best policy against England. "We didn't play for a draw against Colombia and there is no reason why we should think differently about this match," he said. "Comparing our players with theirs, Romania need not feel inferior. If we win, then we go to the next round, so victory must be our main objective," he added. "We are playing to be first in our group and have the men to achieve it."
Nobody more, Hagi thinks, than Romania's principal attacker, Adrian Ilie, who has improved no end since joining Valencia in Spain. Ilie's soubriquet the Cobra springs from a description of style by Valencia's coach, Claudio Ranieri. "Ilie has a way of playing that causes defenders to lose concentration, then he strikes when they least expect it, just like a snake."
When this was put to Hagi after Ilie scored against Colombia, he smiled. "A big talent," he said. "Ilie has learned a lot very quickly since going to Spain and could be one of the big stars in this World Cup."
A star himself in the USA finals four years ago, Hagi relishes the prospect of testing David Seaman with free-kicks. "You have not practised them here," somebody said to him on Saturday evening, and Hagi grinned. Romania did not mind an audience, but they weren't about to show us anything that might matter.
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