TIME WAS when Fifa's unnecessary meddling with the process of fair play - five players sent off on Thursday and a blizzard of yellow cards - would have considerably shortened the odds against Romania completing next week's match against England in Toulouse with 11 men still on the field.
Tough was hardly the word for them. Coming up against England at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the only previous meeting between them in the finals, Romania maintained a reputation for brutal fouling. "Even though Alf Ramsey had warned us the Romanians were harder than we expected," Martin Peters recalled.
Peters, who would have further cause to be wary when turning out against Romanian clubs for Tottenham Hotspur, doesn't remember a great deal more about England's 1-0 victory in Guadalajara 28 years ago other than the viciousness and Geoff Hurst's goal. "It was our first match and we were just glad to get through it without anyone getting seriously hurt," he added.
In fact, England's right-back, Keith Newton of Blackburn Rovers, whose death earlier this week at only 56 caused Peters to reflect again on life's perspective (four years after the loss of Bobby Moore), was so badly kicked by Romania's main hatchet man, Mihai Mocanu, that he had to go off. Next, Mocanu chalked up Newton's replacement, Tommy Wright, before setting about Francis Lee. If never slow to get his retaliation in first, Lee said afterwards that he had never felt so much pain: "I thought the bastard had broken my leg."
True to the philosophy of that time, the Bulgarian referee, Vital Loraux, took no action other than to award England a succession of free-kicks. "It's interesting to see how much the Romanians appear to have changed," Peters added.
The 1994 finals in the United States saw Romania putting greater emphasis on natural close-quarter skills, astute passing and imaginative long-range attempts on goal. Indulged more by their national team than the foreign clubs who have often found them a liability, Gheorghe Hagi and Ilie Dumitrescu were the stars of the team that eventually reached the quarter-finals.
Romania's coach since before the 1994 tournament, and an outstanding midfielder in his day, Angel Iordanescu, draws a veil over the hostility once associated with his country's football. "That history is not my concern," he replied this week when the thought was related to him by a member of the Romanian delegation.
One thing Iordanescu shares with England's coach, Glenn Hoddle, is a deep mistrust of the people who are employed to bring him under interrogation. Fulfilling only the weekly obligation of two press conferences and one open training session required by the World Cup Organising Committee he says: "We are here to play football not for idle conversation."
Iordanescu is, nevertheless, acutely aware of the need to deal with the disenchantment raised by his decision to resign and to take over the Greek national team once the tournament is over. Speaking this week at Romania's headquarters, "La Reserve", near to the small city of Albi some 40 miles from Toulouse, he said, "I hope that our performance in the first match [a 1-0 defeat of Colombia] will help solve problems with the Romanian press and bring things back to normal. It is difficult to make preparation for such important matches when there are these diversions and people who are not qualified telling me which players to select."
Although not entirely happy with the effort against Colombia - "we should have kept the ball better after scoring at the beginning of the second half" - Iordanescu believes that his team is good enough to secure a place in the second round of matches. "England have strong players in the midfield and intelligent attackers but we have seen things from their match against Tunisia in Marseilles to encourage us," he says.
Doubtless concerned about the physical nature of English football (possibly the reason for Romania's nastiness in the 1970 finals and later inter- club conflicts) Iordanescu holds frequent discussions with the Chelsea wing-back Dan Petrescu who is not available for general comment due to the contract he has with an English newspaper.
"Football mentality differs from country to country," Romania's coach says. "Petrescu helps us understand how English players think but he doesn't have to tell me that they always have great spirit."
Long since released from the ideological constraints imposed by totalitarian rule, Romanian footballers take happily to migration. Only six of the present squad, including the 23-year-old defender Christian Dulca, who is being watched by a number of English and German clubs, play in their homeland. For Iordanescu, who is about to become a mercenary himself, the problem may be an attitude different from that which prevailed when Mocanu went around kicking England players in Mexico. It isn't the State they play for now but contracts abroad.
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