Last year (2005) Romania made it to the quarter-finals. We lost on penalties to Korea (game finished 2-2 after regular time), after eliminating two other Asian teams on the road up to that round. The tournament brought back painful memories as it bare resemblance to Romania’s performance at the USA World Cup in 1994.
This year, we were more determined than ever to bring Romania higher into the world spotlight, to show that a small country from Eastern Europe can challenge the superpowers of soccer and shake this sport at its very foundations. We recruited some incredible players who compensated the lack of ball skill with excellent tactical knowledge and strict discipline. They are immortal now, thanks to the wonders of this new art, photography. If you look at the team
picture (and more pictures here):
Up, from left to right: ANTONIO – FILIPPO – SCOTT – NADINA – IONUT – DAVE
Below, left to right: DAVID – QUIQUE – BOGDAN – MARIUS
Reserves (not shown): Alex (played Friday), Tony (reserve goalie)
Back to the tournament itself, please enjoy below a step-by-step description
(by Bogdan) of two great days that transformed boys into men, bringing them glory and honor along the way.
As luck would have it, we drew another Asian team, an old acquaintance from last year: Hong-Kong. The first half was dominated by the Asian players, while the Romanians were still figuring out how to play together as a group. After half-time, things changed, and Romanians starting attacking more and more, creating a few great chances - all wasted unfortunately by the two front men, Ionut and Bogdan. When the final whistle blew, it was still 0-0, and now fate would decide who would advance to the next round.
The penalty kicks were definitely not recommended to any heart-suffering fans: after 5 missed penalties in a row, Ionut managed somehow to put the last one past the goalkeeper and book his team a ticket in the quarter-finals. The expression on Ionut’s face was enough to show the collective joy and happiness of the team, as now Romania was preparing their next move against Thailand.
This game started in the poorest weather conditions ever seen during a World Cup, in history: rain, followed by hail! This explains the elegant Armani hat that you can see in some photos on the head of Bogdan, otherwise a mediocre striker but with a heart of a lion. Once again, another Asian team blocked the way to Nirvana for our team, but we were determined to destroy the opposition. This time, Romanians started attacking from the first whistle in a decisive manner, passing confidently in midfield, supported in the back by a superb defense, comparable perhaps only with ancient Roman Legions in terms of organizational skills.
The opener was scored by Bogdan, who – after receiving a top-class pass from David in the midfield – advanced with the ball and scored with a low shot that took the goalkeeper by surprise. It was the first goal of the tournament for Romania, and now our true capabilities were free to unleash, at last. Romania dominated the rest of the first half, with Ionut scoring another amazing goal minutes before the break. The ball rebounded from several players to our striker, who wasted no time and fired a shot that stunned the Thailand defense.
In the second half, Romania shut down the engines, knowing they need to conserve precious energy for the rounds to come. Our beautiful girl Nadina entered the pitch to further humiliate a poor Thailand team who could find no means to block her and our team. In the end, they got lucky, but a poor goal from Thailand was not enough for them to challenge the tie, and at the end of the game Romania found themselves for the first time in the semis.
This game was won mainly by the midfield: the speedy Antonio on the right, the superb David in the center. Antonio devastated the right wing with his incursions, and his throw kicks (as can be seen in one photo) were unofficially the best ones in the World Cup. The only stain on Antonio’s face was the fancy and uncharacteristic try to get a penalty against USA in the finals. But the lack of fair-play will not take away anything from what Antonio brought to the team. As for David, he brought equilibrium, and he was able to always calmly organize and distribute passes in the middle. Together with Quique on the central axes, they always created panic and proved to be the spinal cord of our team. A great partnership!
After the game, the players took a well-deserved one-hour break, while back home huge crowds were gathering on the streets celebrating the historic moment.
It was a tough break, and the wet and freezing players scattered everywhere, some to take a hot shower, while others gathered at Saigon Grill for a substantial lunch and some warm moments. Anticipating the fantastic challenges that still laid ahead, the two strikers – Ionut and Bogdan – ordered huge pork chops sides to prepare for the future hellish encounters that day. Ionut paid the bill, with Bogdan not returning the money, even today – a fact that left deep marks on the pitch collaboration between the two in the next two matches.
We met Singapore in the semifinals, a team that were favorites on paper, featuring a 1.90 tall African-American in the front that seemed poised to put his name down as a scorer in this game. Rain had stopped by that moment, and the most beautiful game of the whole tournament was ready to kick-off.
Having stronger players in all compartments, Singapore pressed from the start, with Romania only able to defend. Singapore even scored a goal first half, but the referee hadn’t blown his whistle and the goal was disallowed. Despite an impressive performance from the Asians, it was still 0-0 at half-time.
The second half started under the same auspices, our defense doing most of the work. But Dave, Quique, Marius and Filippo proved that the old tactic scheme “the ball can pass, but not the player” is still a very valid stance to take even today, some 30 years after the “cattennacio” was invented. In fact, throughout all the matches actually, these defenders played formidably, and this year’s performance is theirs 90%. Marius was the king on the left, ruling over anyone who would dare come in that area; Dave confiscated the right side of the defense, majestically deterring any incipient attack of the opposition in that part of the field. And Filippo (serving a ban during the first game against Hong-Kong) was the tower of control, not only in the back, but constantly pushing the team forward. Outstanding player. Not to overlook Scott – the goalie – he was also named goalkeeper of the tournament for his fantastic reflexes and perfect placement, but this was to be expected from a player with years and years of experience playing in the goal at top level. A big hand for Scott.
Back to the game: with only 5-6 minutes to go, Singapore went in front 1-0, and all the dreams were now ruined like a cards castle collapsing to the ground. Minutes were passing and passing and passing, until Romania finally had an indirect kick near the Singapore goal with only 2-3 minutes to go. Bogdan passed to Filippo who shot what was deemed the most powerful shot of the tournament, right next to the left post. What an amazing goal! 1-1 and now incredibly, Romania was back into the game and looking to go to penalties again. However, Quique and Bogdan did not agree with that, and in the last minute, Quique hit the bar, the ball bounced back to Bogdan who fired an incredible shot which went in! The astonishing nervous discharge earned Bogdan the nickname “Pippo”, but what did it matter,
ROMANIA WAS IN THE FINAL OF THE WORLD CUP!!!
After ripping across the Asian continent the previous rounds, we met USA in the final, and it was clearly not a balanced game on paper. USA featured a Columbia Lions professional player among their ranks, and as hosts, they were to make sure they will lift the trophy at the end – by all means. Specialists were talking about a 3-0 win for USA, while Romania were 1000-1 at the book-keepers.
The game was the ugliest of the tournament, with no opportunities on either side. Our defense was again heroic, and to everyone’s surprise the game headed towards an unexpected 0-0. Furthermore, in the second-half, things degenerated, with harsh fouls committed by both teams, with a plus for Filippo. When penalties looked like a sure thing, with only 20 seconds to go, USA scored the only goal of the final and grabbed the trophy with a last gasp.
But we will never forget this team, a group to remain in history.
A big BRAVO for the Romanian team who showed the world once again that everything is possible with a bit of guts.
PS Bogdan’s hat was named BEST HAT worn by a player during the tournament.
Let's hope we'll be the champions next year!!!
See you there,
The Romanian Soccer Team
See more pictures of the team (in yellow) here.