1-0 (35) Gheorghe Popescu


1990 World Cup Qualification
UEFA, Group 1
Video: Goal
Wed. 17 May 1989
Kick-off: –
Stadionul Steaua, Bucharest
Att.: 30,000
Ref.: Serguei Khussainov (SOV)
L 1: Miroslav Stupar (SOV)
L 2: Ivan Timoshenko (SOV)


Romania were still on top of the group table, but now had Denmark in their heels after the results in April. A win against Bulgaria would be vital before the two encounters with the Danes in autumn, while Bulgaria more or less were out of the race already.


Romania team news

Romania welcomed back Lăcătuș, who, one presumes, missed the last match with injury. Rotariu returned after suspension, with Michael Klein finding his place on the bench. Between the goal posts, Bogdan Stelea made his first competitive match for Romania. Stelea had emerged during the qualifiers as the second choice behind Lung, who had sustained an injury before this match.

Jenei continued with the central defence pairing of Rednic and Bumbescu that he had used in Athens. Miodrag Belodedici of course remained unavailable after his defection to Yugoslavia, and Ioan Andone was still banned by the Romanian FA after making obscene gestures in the direction of Valentin Ceaușescu in the Dinamo-Steaua encounter in March.

The team selection was otherwise what one now would expect from Romania and which had proven so solid in the qualifiers so far. On the bench, Gavril Balint was given a place instead of Vaișcovici, who had been a playing substitute in all of their three previous qualifiers, and youngsters Petrescu and Dumitrescu were still in the frame. There was no Lupescu, however, who didn’t impress much in Athens.

Bulgaria team news

Bulgaria were regrouping, as they since April had sacked Boris Angelov and installed Dimitar Penev (CFKA Sredets) and Georgi Vasilev (Etar) as interim managers. 

The two lined up the Bulgarian team in a 4-3-3 formation (strongly resembling the one Penev would have great success with in the 1994 World Cup). Penev wanted the team to resemble his successful CFKA Sredets, and would perhaps most likely have used the lethal club trio Kostadinov – Stoichkov – Lubo Penev, but the latter was sidelined with an injury (broken ankle, sustained 13 April for CFKA against Dunav). In Lubo Penev’s place, Stoycho Mladenov was recalled to the team. The experienced Mladenov was of couse the spearhead of the Bulgarian attack in the 1986 World Cup, but had not played a single match for the national team since the 2-0 loss against Argentina that summer. The reason for this is likely to have been his transfer to Belenenses and Portuguese football: a move that one presumes the Bulgarian FA did not give their blessing to. Nikolay Iliev was suspended (2 bookings) for the Bulgarians, with Dimitar Mladenov taking his place as libero. Mladenov had figured in Bulgaria’s friendly against UAE, but hadn’t been participating in any of the qualifiers so far. He was paired with Trifon Ivanov, who returned from his 1 match ban. The most noticeable team change was however in midfield, as they fielded a trio with almost very little international experience. Youngster Balakov had already enjoyed some minutes of play in the qualification, while Tinchev and Bakalov only had been called into action years ago. If maybe not very experimental, it was indeed an unusual team selection.

UEFA had appointed the tall figure of Mr Serguei Khussainov (USSR) as referee for this match between two Eastern European nations.

Romania (4-1-3-2)

1 Bogdan Stelea21Dinamo
2 Ştefan Iovan (c)28Steaua
3 Iosif Rotariu26Steaua
4 Adrian Bumbescu29Steaua
5 Dorin Mateuțsub 64′23Dinamo
6 Mircea Rednic27Dinamo
7 Marius Lăcătuș 45+1′25Steaua
8 Ioan Sabăusub 84′21Dinamo
9 Rodion Cămătaru30Dinamo
10 Gheorghe Hagi24Steaua
11 Gheorghe Popescu21Univ. Craiova

12 Andrei Speriatu31Argeș Pitești
13 Dan Petrescu21Steaua
14 Gavril Balint26Steaua
15 Michael Kleinon 64′29Dinamo
18 Ilie Dumitrescuon 84′20Steaua
Manager: Emeric Jenei             

Bulgaria (4-3-3)

1 Iliya Valovsub h-t27CFKA Sredets
2 Pavel Dochev23Lokomotiv Sofia
3 Trifon Ivanov23CFKA Sredets
4 Dimitar Vasev23Lokomotiv Sofia
5 Dimitar Mladenov27Trakia Plovdid
6 Vasil Tinchev30Sliven
7 Emil Kostadinov 62′21CFKA Sredets
8 Hristo Stoichkov22CFKA Sredets
9 Krasimir Balakov22Etar
10 Stoycho Mladenov (c)32Belenenses
11 Marin Bakalov27Trakia Plovdid

12 Nikolai Donevon h-t31Etar
13 Nedyalko Mladenov27CFKA Sredets
14 Iliya Voynov25Botev Vratsa
15 Georgi Georgiev26CFKA Sredets
16 Ivaylo Kirov23CFKA Sredets
Caretaker head coaches: Dimitar Penev and Georgi Vasilev

Tactical line-ups

Match report

1st half
Bulgaria were playing 4-3-3, with the three attackers given instructions to stay forward and wait for counter-attacking opportunities, and the rest of the team given more defensive tasks. It was not easy to pinpoint the exact position of the three forwards, as they were given licence to roam. Stoycho Mladenov was however the one most eager to go deep and take part in build-up play. This was the successful formation of CFKA Sredets, Penev’s team, and it would be interesting to see if the caretakers could transfer some of that team’s shape as well as form into the national side after Bulgaria’s inexciting start to the qualification under Angelov.

The two caretakers had however obviously not done their homework with regard to Romania’s strengths. They were of course alert to the abilities of Gheorghe Hagi, and usually always had a man to close him down wherever he got the ball (Hagi would as usual be quite mobile, using the whole width of the field). But they had not taken into consideration that Gica Popescu would push forward from his deep midfield position, and were several times caught leaving him vast spaces between their midfield and defence when trying to close down the often deep-lying Hagi. True, Gica Popescu hadn’t been very impressive on the ball in the teams’ first encounter, but by now he had grown to become an imposing figure in the Romanian team, combining power and vision in his play. This turned out to be one of his best performances in the qualifiers, although Bulgaria did allow him to excel: Popescu dictated tempo and made powerful forward runs, as Bulgaria left big spaces between midfield and defence.

The Bulgarian midfield was perhaps inexperienced, but also very thin when they were stretched by Romania’s quick play from side to side, and succumbed easily to the pressure from the home side. The midfield trio was easily ran over by the waves of Romanian players, who again showed what a good attacking side they are, combining technique and pace to advance forward. There was little dwelling on the ball in the Romanian side, only a will to set pace and use few touches before passing the ball on. They also have players who are experts in taking on defenders to open up play, like Hagi and Sabău, and the penetrating force of Poepscu who with much elegance strides forward with the ball. Cămătaru offers something different with his bodily presence, although one would have wanted to see him used more in this half, and Lăcătuș offers movement off the ball as a second striker, but ideally we would have liked to see him going wide more often here. Lăcătuș was also prolific in combination play, although more involved in the centre of the field than what he had been so far in the qualifiers. All in all, this was Romania as we had became used to see them so far, with fluid, high tempo play.

The Bulgarians had not come up with any plan to stop the Romanian right side, which had been so strong in several qualifiers so far. Balakov, either being too attacking or defensively deficient, had the left side of the Bulgarian midfield trio, but left behind a large gap that Sabău and Iovan exploited. Iovan time and again came running down with the ball and Sabău did expertly to cut inside to open up spaces for him by taking on either Vasev or Balakov. From this side, Romania produced most of their opportunities, building up several promising moves.

The Romanian left side has been the more quiet side in these qualifiers, and there was now a tendency for Mateuț to more and more disappear from play. He did get one typical opportunity to shoot from a rebound outside the box, but didn’t hit target this time. Mateuț is a player with good work rate, so he does contribute to the balance of the team, but he was largely overshadowed by the far more prolific midfielders next to him. One difference from previous matches was the willingness of Rotariu to go forward. Usually he has kept these runs forward down to 1 or 2 each game, but now he kept shuttling forward, probably for the reason that he saw little danger facing him defensively, and contributed to several decent opportunities with crosses from his left side.

Despite their clear dominance, Romania didn’t create a lot of opportunities during the first 30 minutes of play. But a couple of them were quite big, like the header from Lăcătuș that Ivanov cleared off the line with his backhead. But 1-0 was always going to happen, and this time the opener came on a set piece. Vasev had fouled Hagi near the touchline, and while the Romanian playmaker was limping in the background, Lăcătuș struck the free-kick into the box and Popescu scored with a towering header. Romania didn’t have many people inside the box for some reason, but Popescu was head and shoulder above the rest and gave the home side the lead they were fully deserving.

Romania came close to double their lead on a few occasions before half-time. The greatest opportunity was produced as Sabău and Iovan again broke forward on their right hand side. It had often been Iovan who supplied the cross from that side, but this time it was Sabău himself who put in the cross and steered it in the direction of Cămătaru’s front head. The cross was unfortunately too high, and Cămătaru skied the ball over the bar. It was once again good combination play from the right side. More crosses could have paid off, as Cămătaru looked sharp this evening.

Bulgaria saw little of the ball and hardly managed to keep possession in the team. But as expected they did show some tendencies in their counter-attacks. Stoycho Mladenov was often the creator, bringing the ball forward from his own half, and Kostadinov looked dangerous sitting on the defenders’ shoulder (Stoichkov was in fact the more anonymous of the three attackers). The best chance fell to Kostadinov when he made an opportunistic attempt to catch a Romanian pass back to goalkeeper Stelea, which he only just managed to get his boot on, but not get enough power behind. Kostadinov was on one occasion even played through on goal by S. Mladenov with the entire Romanian half for himself, but the Soviet linesman let himself be fooled by Rednic’s attempt to rush out, and flagged offside – in reality, Kostadinov was more than one meter onside (such misjudgments are sadly something one saw too often in 1988 and 1989).

2nd half
The Bulgarian interim managers were forced to make one substitution in the break, as goalkeeper Valov – once again – had to throw in the towel because of injury. Valov had been seen limping for large parts of the 1st half. As in the last match against Denmark, Donev was called upon. For Romania, this looked to be another comfortable win for them. However, we do remember that Romania had lost the initiative in Athens in the second half, showing first signs of weakness in the qualification.

Everyone expected Romania to continue rolling over Bulgaria, but although they remained the better side in the 2nd half, they looked far less sharper. Why is that? Other than substituting Valov for Donev, the two caretakers must have told Marin Bakalov to help out Vasil Tinchev in the central areas of the pitch, where the latter had had problem of taking out both Hagia and Popescu. As Mateuț hadn’t been very prolific, Bulgaria felt comfortable leaving him even more space out on his left side with Bakalov moving into a more central position, and Kostadinov and S. Mladenov taking turns defending when needed down the right hand side. They had also instructed the midfield to lie deeper, leaving less spaces in the midfield areas which Romania had exploited in the first half. This changed some of the dynamics of the game and made Romania look less good.

Small details reveal how the Romanian play got less effective. There were now more solo efforts and a tendency to use more touches before passing the ball on. For some reason, they also now tended to play more narrowly. A part of their success in the 1st half had been to stretch the Bulgarian midfield, but now they seemed to play most of play only through the middle or the right side. While Mateuț hadn’t been very good, their play profited from using width.

Another reason for the loss of momentum for Romania can of course be the many free-kicks given by the referee, mostly committed by Bulgarians, that disrupted much of the flow of the game. Bulgaria now also seemed a bit more confident on the ball, keeping the ball more within the team instead of continually chasing after wasted counter-attacks. Add to this that it was an unusually hot day in the Romanian capital: large parts of the home crowd were even watching the game with naked torso under the baking sun. The humidity must have tired the players out on the pitch. But if that is so, the Romanians looked the team that was more affected when comparing the performances before and after the break.

While Romania increasingly looked frustarted, Bulgaria started to produce opportunities. The first chance fell to Ivanov on a corner, as Stelea failed to handle a corner: unfortunately, Ivanov put too much power in the shot, and skied it over the bar. But it was of course the counter-attacks that were the Bulgarians’ true element and where they proved more dangerous, with especially Kostadinov excelling with his pace and proving himself as a really smart player. At least compared to the explosive pace of Kostadinov, Romania’s defensive players looked slow. Kostadionov would often pick up the ball around the halfway line, set pace traversing the pitch. If he didn’t always manage to find a team mate with his final pass, it proved to be a great attacking tool. Bulgaria’s big chance of the game came from one of these Kostadinov runs, as he was crowded out by Romanians but managed to find Stoichkov standing alone in front of goal – Stoichkov’s shot rattled the cross bar and went over the goal.

This glorious chance came during a quite good Bulgarian period (60-75 mins), and as Romania were unable to reproduce their performances from the 1st half and now even looked closer to conceding a goal, the audience at Ghencea started to voice their frustration by making whistles. Jenei had already minutes earlier taken note of the disappointing performances so far, and had tried to change things by substituting Mateuț with Michael Klein. Jenei is known to usually make non-tactical substitutions player for player, and this case was no different. Mateuț had after all not had a very good game.

Things calmed down the last 15 minutes, as Romania found their way back into the game. The home side produced a few shots on goal, but once again more by individual efforts: two long-shots from Cămătaru and Rotariu, and a good dribbling effort from substitute Dumitrescu that ended with a good finish. The best Romanian attack of the second half was directed by Hagi, who came to life again in the closing stages as most players out there looked tired from the heat, when he crossed the ball for Lăcătuș, standing at the far post, to finish with a volley shot. Donev parried the ball, but it was a nice move to end a disappointing half.

A mixed performance by Romania. The 1st half was as good as anything they had shown so far, almost playing their opponents off the park with fluid, quick play. The 2nd half was far inferior, as they started to look sluggish. But it is difficult to pinpoint why: complacency, the hot temperature, the many stops in play? Still a deserved win for Romania, but Bulgaria were more competent in the attacking department than previously in these qualifiers, especially Kostadinov being dangerous, and could even have grabbed an equalizer. Romana secured the two points that would give them a lead on Denmark before their internal meetings in autumn 1989.


1 Stelea 6.5
Gives a steady impression, but fails once when trying to handle a corner.
2 Iovan 7.6
Shuttles forward as often as he can. Combines well with Sabău and puts in some good crosses.
3 Rotariu 7.1
Unusually makes many forward runs, and proves very effective in that. Moved into midfield when Klein came on
4 Bumbescu 7.1
Resolute in battling for the ball.
5 Mateuț 6.5
A bit disappointing performance as he looks a bit overshadowed by the other imposing figures in the Romanian midfield. Offers some balance with his work rate.
(15 Klein 6.9
on as the left-sided defender. Had one venture forward which culminated in a blocked shot from outside the area)
6 Rednic 7.0
The libero starts a number of attacks by bringing the ball out of defence.
7 Lăcătuș 6.8
Has the ability to find opportunities. But we have seen him better when moving more into the channels.
8 Sabău 7.2
Enjoys a very good game as Romania’s second playmaker. At times impossible to stop from sliding past defenders.
(16 Dumitrescu –
Looked very enterprising in his brief cameo. An excellent run and shot, as well as a splendid first time volley, both saved)
9 Cămătaru 7.0
Solid as always, and should have have been given more to work with.
10 Hagi 7.3
As usual, he operates from one side to the other, and expertly takes on defenders. Particular good at dribbling, but becomes more stationary in the 2nd half, when he for the most part in seen in the central areas.
11 Popescu 7.2
Given too much space and is dominant in dictating the tempo. Even gets the winner. But as the defensive midfielder, he, as rest of the team, has problems picking up the Bulgarian counter-attacks.

1 Valov 6.4
Does not inspire confidence in his defenders. And injured – again.
(12 Donev 6.6
Just looks a more robust goalkeeper than Valov)
2 Dochev 6.8
Enjoys one of his better matches, playing as a right back. Is eager to close down and set in tackles, as high as in the midfield department.
3 Ivanov 6.6
A bit more careful than last time around.
4 Vasev 6.5
Very aggressive tackler, committs a number of free-kicks that he for some reason is now booked for. Has a hard time against Iovan and Sabău in the 1st half, which isn’t just his fault.
5 D. Mladenov 6.8
Technically speaking the team’s libero, but acts more as a central defender, and is usually the one clearing the ball away.
6 Tinchev 6.6
Pushes somewhat too high up the pitch when closing down in the 1st half. Plays fiercely.
7 Kostadinov 7.2
Swift and smart player in Bulgaria’s counter-attacks.
8 Stoichkov 6.5
Not his best game in the qualifiers. Can be a bit wasteful and doesn’t really get going in this match.
9 Balakov 6.5
The most creative of Bulgaria’s midfielders. Does not give Vasev the best of support before the break.
10 S. Mladenov 6.7
All in all a positive comeback in the team. Shows calmness on the ball and vision, but isn’t always successful when dribbling.
11 Bakalov 6.3
Not much use of him in the 1st half, gets more involved when moving inwards after the break to help out Tinchev.

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