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Romania Stuns England in Final Minutes, 2-1

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 1998; Page E4

 England's Michael Owen (right) lies in dejection after missing an opportunity to tie the match.
(Luca Bruno/AP)
TOULOUSE, France, June 22 — Lost in the commotion of preparing for possible trouble from British hooligans tonight was that the English national team had an important match to play. And in a startling end to a tense night in this historic southern city, Dan Petrescu scored in the 90th minute — seven minutes after 18-year-old Michael Owen had tied the game for England — as Romania clinched a World Cup round-of-16 berth with a 2-1 victory at Stade Municipal.

The loss severely jeopardized England's hopes for its first world championship in 32 years. Even if it beats or ties Colombia Friday in Lens to claim Group G's other bid, England probably would have to play soaring Argentina in the second round.

"We're bitterly disappointed," Coach Glenn Hoddle said. "The way we took it to them [late in the match], I felt we could go on and win the game, not lose it — and we lost it in such a crushing way."

Petrescu, who plays for Chelsea in England's Premier League, used his chest to bring down a long ball deep in the penalty area. He held off defender Graeme Le Saux and slipped the ball between the legs of goalkeeper Tony Seaman, setting off a wild celebration in front of Romania's bench and in the few pockets of spectators among the 37,000 who were supporting the Romanians.

"I think this victory is well deserved. It's the outcome of tremendous effort, it comes from the bottom of [the players'] hearts and souls and it also represents a lot of hard work on the part of my team," Coach Anghel Iordanescu said. "The team went through a lot of agony and ecstasy during the match... Everyone is sure to be very happy tonight in Romania."

Officials here and in the French and British governments were happy that the thousands of English fans who came to town were well-behaved. Outdoor cafes and shops were flooded with visitors and most were simply caught up in the World Cup spirit. There was a report of some damage in the city when Petrescu scored, but nothing resembling the riots in Marseille last week that left dozens injured and resulted in about 100 arrests.

Six hours before kickoff, police had created a buffer zone of about a kilometer around the stadium, which sits on the Isle du Ramier, between two branches of the Garonne River. To get spectators in a peaceful mood, the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" and U2's "[Pride] in the Name of Love" were played.

Stade Municipal is better known in these parts as "mini-Wembley" because of its slight resemblance to the fabled grounds north of London, so it seemed appropriate that about two-thirds of the spectators were behind England. English flags with club names proudly posted on them draped from every railing in the lower level.

But this promised to be a difficult match for England, which triggered excessive optimism among its supporters and the British media after a 2-0 opening victory over hardly threatening Tunisia last week. Talk of a quarterfinal showdown with Germany and a possible run at a championship seemed ridiculously premature, especially against battle-tested Romania.

In the final 16 eight years ago and a quarterfinalist in 1994, the Romanians are making perhaps their final run at international glory under the leadership of a veteran collection of outstanding players. The best of all is midfielder Gheorghe Hagi, arguably the finest player at the past two World Cups. At 32, his ball skills and touch have betrayed him a bit, but he's still dangerous on the attack.

The new generation is led by 24-year-old forward Adrian Ilie, who put his promise on display in the 28th minute with a coy shot from the right flank that drifted over Seaman and off the crossbar.

Romania went right to work after a scoreless first half. Off a throw-in, Hagi chipped with his left foot to Viorel Moldovan in the heart of the penalty area. Moldovan, who plays for English club Coventry City, brought it down with his chest, avoided defender Tony Adams and blasted a shot past Seaman.

England got the equalizer by Owen, who tagged a loose ball in the box for his second career goal. Owen had entered just six minutes earlier in place of Teddy Sheringham, who was ineffective. Hoddle is sure to feel the pressure to start Owen over Sheringham against Colombia.

"It's a great feeling to get on and to score — a great feeling but a bad result," Owen said. "Two sloppy goals cost us."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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