Monday, 15 February 2010


USA 1994, Second Round: Argentina v Romania

On July 3 at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, in Los Angeles, 90,000 spectators witnessed a classic Second Round clash and a major upset. Even without star player Diego Maradona, who had been expelled from the tournament after failing a drugs test, the South Americans giants and Finalists of the previous two tournaments were not expected to fall to Romania. But the East Europeans had a hero of their own in the form of Gheorghe Hagi, and the belief of the team was evident from the off.

An explosive start saw three goals scored in the opening 18 minutes - two excellent strikes by Illie Dumitrescu scored either side of an Argentinian penalty that should never have been given. Gabriel Batistuta conned the ref into believing he had been held back in the box and scored the penalty himself. Within two minutes the Romanians were deservedly back in front, however, with a sublimely worked exchange between Dumitrescu and Hagi.

With a tearful Maradona watching on from the stands, Hagi rounded off a fine breakaway move in the 58th minute to extend the lead to 3-1 and leave Argentina's World Cup hopes ebbing away. They did manage to pull one back from Balbo with 15 minutes left following a goalkeeping lapse, but - perhaps missing the inspiration of Maradona - couldn't find the thrust they needed to find the equalizer, and found themselves on an early plane home.

Romania's victory was richly deserved. The outstanding quality of the three goals they scored, the self-belief and work ethic of the team, and the brilliance of Hagi all contributed to a memorable encounter. Romania's reward for seeing off one of the pre-tournament favourites was a quarter-final clash with Sweden, which turned out to be another classic. The Scandinavians emerged triumphant in a penalty shoot-out after the game had finished 2-2.

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