Yup, that’s a whole lot of nationalities in that headline. Let’s dissect it a bit. In 1998 Romania had a forward named Violel Moldovan (who is, in fact, not from the nation of Moldova.) He scored a goal against England, which saw the Three Lions defeated in the group stage, putting their tournament in jeopardy. As it turned out, England won their final group game against Colombia, but by losing their top spot in the group, they ended up playing Argentina instead of Croatia. It was a bad loss for the English, they thrive at getting knocked out by better teams in the knockout rounds. By losing out a supposedly weaker team in the groups, the nostalgic thoughts of 1966 entwined with the shameless optimism of “this’ll be our year” felt even more forced than usual.
England dominated the early stages of the match in Toulouse. Darren Anderton, playing as a right wingback for England, had his initial cross blocked by the slide tackle of Gabriel Popescu. As Popescu slid off the pitch, momentum pushing him off the field, the ball bounced back to Anderton. Anderton hit the ball first time with his left foot, looping a cross into the middle of the six yard box. Alan Shearer contested for the ball. Romania’s goalkeeper had the ball in both hands, and yet the incoming Shearer forced enough pressure to make the ‘keeper drop the ball. Teddy Sheringham sprinted towards the ball, however Constantin Galca reached the ball first, knocking it away from danger, gifting Romania some safe possession.
England once again nearly grabbed the opening goal. A well worked set piece found Teddy Sheringham totally unmarked. It bounced in the box and rose to the perfect height for the Manchester United striker to hit it. The ball looped past everybody, falling just to the left of the goalpost. Tony Adams slid in at the back post, hoping to slide in Sheringham’s strike, but the ball had too much zip on it for Adams to connect.
Romania were inches away from taking the lead half an hour in. Tony Adams was left ball watching, appealing for an offside flat that never raised. While he stood around helplessly waving, the Romania forward Adrian Ilie had taken down the long ball down in acres of space. Ilie drove into the box from the right, then attempted an audacious lob over David Seaman in the England nets. The ball looped over Seaman’s head, hitting off the crossbar and bouncing back into play, although to no man in particular. England had control early on, but Romania were full of confidence after an impressive win against Colombia in their opening fixture, and were capable of grabbing a goal.
One minute into the second half and Romania found the net. Former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder Gheorghe Hagi controlled a throw in and crossed the ball into the box. The cross looped over Tony Adams’ head and onto the chest of this articles eponymous character, Viorel Moldovan. Moldovan chested the ball down and slotted
the ball home, giving Romania the lead.
Substitute David Beckham nearly equalised for the Three Lions. Beckham and Le Saux both stood over the ball, but it was Beckham who struck one of his trademark right footed free kicks. The ball soared over the wall and, unfortunately for England, over the bar.
With an hour gone, England stepped up the pressure. Alan Shearer headed a high cross down into the edge of the box. The marauding Darren Anderton controlled the ball on the corner of the six yard box, hitting the ball with the outside of his foot to try and turn the ball in. The shot went just wide, but the effort was impressive. England were a goal down, but they were gaining momentum.
With fifteen minutes to go, England’s young prodigy, Michael Owen, entered the field of play. With eight minutes to go, he’d brought England level. Alan Shearer chased down a seemingly lost ball. He drove it low and hard across goal. The cross was flicked by Le Saux, taking the still out of the ball and wrongfooting the Romanian defence. Michael Owen reacted quickest to the Le Saux flick, and slid to ground, knocking his shot up and into the back of the net. The goal was no more than what England deserved. So what happened with ten seconds of regulation time remaining was a cruel blow indeed…
Right wingback Dan Petrescu broke English hearts in the 90th minute on that warm June evening in Toulouse. The inventors of football were undone by the most simplest moves in the playbook, the good old fashioned long ball. Gary Neville and Graeme Le Saux were completely undone by this ball, Petrescu calculated the bounce, took a touch with his chest and nicked the ball between the legs of David Seaman. The reaction by the England players spoke volumes, head in hands by all.
It was international tournament England all over. Lots of good play, expectations high, and of course, bitter disappointment. England paid the price for this loss. They faced Argentina in the next round, losing David Beckham to a petulant kick out on Diego Simone. Romania excelled themselves by topping the group, but lost to a jubilant Croatian team in the Last 16. It was a tough defeat to take for a highly promising group of English players. Perhaps it was karma for England’s manager, Glenn Hoddle. Perhaps he was reaping sins from a previous life of his…
Tomorrow’s game: June 23rd. Togo v France. 2006.