Romania – Greece: Slick Romania have too much pace for languid visitors
Ref.: Mr Hubert Forstinger
L 1: Heinz Holmann
L 2: Hans Varadi
Written by: domizio/kaltz
It had been a brilliant start to the qualifiers for Romania, winning 3-1 in Sofia. If they could continue with another two points against Greece, they would firmly establish themselves in the driver’s seat of this group. Greece had drawn at home against Denmark, and despite that not being a bad result, they could really need a point or even two in this tight group with only one automatic qualification berth for Italia’90. Romania had to be favourites, however, and they had a good record against Greece. The last encounter between the two teams found place 7th October 1987 in Bucharest, when Greece had gone 2-0 up before conceding twice, making it a 2-2 draw. A similar result today would be welcomed by the visitors.
It is very early doors for a table, but here it is nevertheless:
Romania team news
Romania had done tremendously well to begin their qualification campaign with an assured win in Sofia, and now just two weeks later, manager Emeric Jenei had named exactly the same 16 man squad for the visit of Greece. The team had performed so well in Bulgaria that the national team management had complete faith in this group of players. The new men coming into the side since the previous qualification, left-sided defender Iosif Rotariu and midfielders Ioan Sabău and Gheorghe Popescu, had all acquitted themselves positively, and it was hardly negative for the team that they now had got an injection of fresh blood.
Romania had done particularly well going forward, and their transitions from defence to attack appeared to be something that few teams could cope with. In midfield, they had players with stamina, pace and vision, and in particular Dorin Mateuţ had contributed to the win in Bulgaria with a goal and a long range effort spilled by the opposition’s goalkeeper Mihaylov for Rodion Cămătaru to tuck home. He’d also almost inexplicably missed the target with almost a free header from a Rotariu cross during the first half then.
The Romanian set-up in their opening qualifier had been a 4-4-2 formation in which Popescu, alongside substitute Michael Klein the sole player among the 16 to come from outside of the capital, had been operating as the defensive midfielder, allowing Sabău, Mateuţ and Gheorghe Hagi all to represent the creativity. They had looked slick going forward, and also had the ability to put a shift in defensively when needed. Could they follow up with another win against an opponent that they traditionally did well against?
Greece team news
In their qualification opener, the Greeks had showed plenty of fighting spirit against Denmark, and they had been rewarded with a point, something which they had probably been pleased about. However, if they were to compete for one of the two top berths, they could not accept home draws, and so they were in demand to go one better here in Bucharest, well aware that it was an opponent they had never before overturned away from home in ten previous attempts.
Greece manager Miltos Papapostolou had made four changes to his 16 man squad since two weeks ago: Out had gone midfielder Giorgios Skartados, who in the second half against the Danish had at times been seen following Michael Laudrup, experienced back-up ‘keeper Nikos Sarganis, defender Petros Mikhos and attacking midfielder Vasilis Karapialis. The latter had replaced Skartados against the Danish. The other two had been unused substitutes.
Replacing the four axed players were goalkeeper Giannis Gitsioudis, a 26 year old from PAOK of Thessaloniki, who had featured in three spring and summer 1988 friendlies, playing 45 minutes against all of Northern Ireland, the Soviet Union and Canada, AEK’s 21 year young libero Giorgos Koutoulas, a previously uncapped player, as well as midfielders Nikos Nioplias, 23 years from Crete club OFI (three friendly appearances in 1988) and Nikos Tsiantakis, 25 years from Olympiakos. The latter was also not yet capped by his country.
Against the Danish, Papapostolou had set his eleven up with five at the back, a formation in which sometimes lazy-looking yet stylish defender Kostas Mavridis had appeared as their libero. Who would do their midfield running this time around with no Skartados in the squad? He’d been the most flexible among their starting three on the previous occasion. And will iconic forwards Nikos Anastopoulos and Dimitris Saravakos be given another chance to shine together up front?
Mr Hubert Forstinger (Austria), a travel agent of profession, was appointed to officiate the match. The 42 year old had made his international debut just short of two years earlier, when he’d been in Valletta to run the rule over Malta and Portugal (0-1) in a qualifier for the 1988 European Championships. Since then, his only other international task had been an April friendly between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union (1-1). Forstinger had, however, been assigned as one of eight European referees for the February and March 1989 FIFA Youth World Championships in Saudi Arabia.
There had been 21 earlier meetings between Romania and Greece, and today’s visitors had won just once: 2-1 in a home friendly in December ’78. Ten previous head to heads in Romania had yielded eight wins for the hosts, though one of the two draws that the Greeks had mustered when travelling to play today’s opponents had been the 1987 friendly (2-2) in which they’d led by two goals. Nine of the 13 players which had been in action that afternoon for the Romanians were in today’s squad, whilst only six of a total of 15 Greek players getting game time that day were featuring in this afternoon’s matchday squad.
The two countries had previously been drawn together twice in World Cup qualifications: In 1957, ahead of Sweden ’58, Romania had won both encounters, while both meetings had ended in draws before Mexico ’70.
|1 Silviu Lung (c)||32||Steaua|
|2 Ştefan Iovan||28||Steaua|
|3 Ioan Andone||28||Dinamo|
|4 Iosif Rotariu||17′||26||Steaua|
|5 Dorin Mateuț||23||Dinamo|
|6 Miodrag Belodedici||24||Steaua|
|7 Marius Lăcătuș||sub 78′||24||Steaua|
|8 Ioan Sabău||sub 86′||20||Dinamo|
|9 Rodion Cămătaru||30||Dinamo|
|10 Gheorghe Hagi||23||Steaua|
|11 Gheorghe Popescu||21||Universitatea Craiova|
|12 Gheorghe Nițu||27||Victoria București|
|13 Nicolae Ungureanu||31||Steaua|
|14 Mircea Rednic||26||Dinamo|
|15 Michael Klein||on 86′||29||Corvinul|
|17 Claudiu Vaișcovici||on 78′||25||Dinamo|
|1 Ilias Talikriadis||23||Olympiakos|
|2 Iakovas Khatziathanasiou||27||Panathinaikos|
|3 Kostas Kolomitrousis||24||Larissa|
|4 Stelios Manolas||27||AEK|
|5 Kostas Mavridis||26||Panathinaikos|
|6 Giotis Tsaloukhidis||60′||25||Olympiakos|
|7 Dimitris Saravakos||27||Panathinaikos|
|8 Andreas Bonovas||24||Iraklis|
|9 Nikos Anastopoulos (c)||72′||30||Panionios|
|10 Tasos Mitropoulos||10, sub h-t||31||Olympiakos|
|11 Nikos Tsiantakis||sub 69′||25||Olympiakos|
|12 Lisandros Georgamlis||26||Panathinaikos|
|13 Giorgos Koutoulas||on h-t||21||AEK|
|14 Nikos Nioplias||on 69′||23||OFI|
|15 Giannis Gitsioudis||26||PAOK|
|16 Vasilis Dimitriadis||22||Aris|
There is no dallying about in the video that we’ve secured from the match, where kick-off is proceeded with almost immediately upon the start of the tape. We do know, however, that it is an early afternoon initiation, and this reflects in the levels of light which are seen: It certainly does appear to have been a ‘nice and sunny day’, to quote the old, proverbial phrase. The game’s opening sequence belongs to the visitors, who set the tie in motion through their expected forward duo of Dimitris Saravakos and Nikos Anastopoulos, the latter appearing with the captain’s armband wrapped around his left upper arm. Can the Greeks take the game to their hosts?
Greece had managed to be collectively composed almost right throughout their 1-1 draw at home to Denmark, but it remained to be seen whether this would be enough against a team which had displayed such slick attacking football in their initial qualifier, or even whether they managed to do the same thing on this occasion. What was true was that the visitors were quickly being pegged on to their back feet, as Romania gave some early displays of that high level of interpassing and player flexibility. In Sofia last time around, the Romanians had shown that they were more than willing to commit plenty of men in attacking moves, and it would be a massive test to the Greek rearguards to see whether they were able to fend off such number-rich charges.
Facing Romania away from home seemed a particularly difficult duty, as they had brushed aside decent opposition such as Austria (4-0) and Spain (3-1) in the qualification ahead of the 1988 European Championships. Playing away behind the Iron Curtain always appeared a daunting task, and Greece were not considered quite among Europe’s elite at this point in time, even if they had some decent players. With just over three minutes gone, they get an early reminder of the magnitude of the job ahead of them when Romania are able to engage one of their nippy little midfielders with some space deep inside the Greek half. Dinamo Bucharest’s playmaker, the highly skillful 23 year old Dorin Mateuţ, can face goal unopposed, and from 30 yards he pings a shot with his right foot which Greece goalkeeper Ilias Talikriadis can not hold on to. The ball comes at the visitors’ number 1 low, but it has been hit with such force that he concedes a rebound into dangerous territory. Fortunately for Talikriadis, he is able to get to the loose ball just ahead of home striker Rodion Cămătaru.
Romania introduce their midfield
Before the opening ten minutes have passed, all three of Romania’s fine attacking midfielders, the young Ioan Sabău, Gheorghe Hagi and said Mateuţ, have all introduced themselves. At times, they’d run the Bulgarians riot two weeks earlier, and faced with an opponent of perhaps even lower quality on this occasion, they’re early at it again. Following on from Mateuţ’ fine effort from distance was the excellent Hagi, wearing the somewhat burdened number 10 jersey, when he played a couple of little one-twos with Mateuţ following a free-kick inside Greek territory. The pair, playing for each their major Bucharest club in Steaua (Hagi) and Dinamo, combined delightfully, and Hagi appeared to have raced through to the left inside the area, until his run was unceremoniously halted by what seemed like defender Stelios Manolas’ right leg. A penalty, surely? No. The Austrian referee waved ‘play on’, and Hagi, who had already been robbed of a left wing corner after playing the ball off the same visitor, lay at the ground with a look of disbelief on his face. The replay suggested that the Romanian had a fair cause. Two minutes on, Hagi collects a short free-kick from Marius Lăcătuş, and just over 20 yards out and slightly to the right of Talikriadis’ goal, he lets fly with his fearsome left foot. To the ‘keeper’s relief the ball sails half a yard over.
Next up would be 20 year old Sabău, a team mate of Mateuţ’ with Dinamo, and another fine performer in that recent win in Sofia. In fact, all three of these midfielders appeared to be equipped with somewhat similar strengths: Their ability to perform darting little runs on the ball and carrying a low centre of gravity. However, while both Hagi and Mateuţ were excellent shots, Sabău had not, yet at least, displayed this precise quality, although he was very strong in possession, showing his capability to make advance at fine speed. As the clock’s just passed nine minutes, one such run in the centre of the pitch, and yet again well inside the visitors’ half, sees Greece midfielder Tasos Mitropoulos, their goalscorer against Denmark and a really robust, experienced international, scythe Sabău down from behind. It is a qualified booking, and the resulting free-kick presents Hagi with yet another opportunity to test his peg. No good hit on this occasion, though, as the ball, barely off the ground, goes a few yards to the right of goal.
The early omens were there: The Romanian midfield had presented itself. It was up to the visitors to not expose gaps which the hosts could make use of, but theory was one thing, practice a whole different issue. Greece boss Miltos Papapostolou surely had an idea of how they would perform their defensive duties, though being faced with such rapid opponents it was a hugely difficult, almost impossible, task which was on their hands. The opening ten minutes had served to underline the Romanians’ pre-match favourites’ tag.
Some of the interpassing between the Romanian players is of the highest calibre, and it makes the spectators, even though there’s a disappointingly low number of them, sound their appreciation from the wooden stands. When the home players inject their infamous pace, there is not a whole lot the Greek players can do to keep up. They’ve just got to hope that the next pass is not a precise one. And that will typically be how a quickly built-up attack comes to an end: A pass which is slightly out of sync. Other than that, what the Romanians do in their movement, their positional exchanges, their availability right across the pitch, their switches of play and tempo, it is all a delight to watch. Yet, it will take them another little while until they manage to carve out further openings, although you’re constantly left with a feeling that the Greeks are being totally aware of their limitations, and that they’ll need to ride their luck not to concede.
A look through the visitors
In the Greek side, there’s ten of the eleven starters from the Denmark game two weeks earlier. They had shaped up in a 5-3-2 formation then, with two man-markers in Giotis Tsaloukhidis and Stelios Manolas looking after each their Danish striker, and with Kostas Mavridis sweeping behind them. The two full-backs, the tough-tackling Iakovas Khatziathanasiou on the right and Dimitris Kolomitrousis opposite, were not particularly adventurous going forward, and the latter had even needed to attend to Danish playmaker Michael Laudrup for large spells. Still, there had been a solidity about the Greeks on that occasion, a solidity which had seemed to evade them for this game. Now, at times, they were at sixes and sevens, and it had even seemed that their original shape had been abandoned for something a little different.
It was clear that Greece had reverted to a four man defensive line on this occasion, with Tsaloukhidis making the step up from his central defensive position and into a defensive midfield role. The idea of having Tsaloukhidis there could well have been to look after the super creative Hagi, though you never quite knew where Hagi would appear, so it was not as if he was always in or around the area which Tsaloukhidis had set out to cover. From the offset, Greece had been with little Andreas Bonovas in a wide right position, as opposed to when he’d been to the left among three midfielders in the Denmark game. However, with Romania in such superiority in the centre of the pitch, it was clear that Papapostolou needed to take action, and what he would do was to shift Bonovas’ attention more towards central areas. He would still be more or less a wide right alternative when the Greeks were in possession, though when needing to defend, Greece saw Bonovas head towards the centre to try and aid the overworked duo of Tsaloukhidis and the usually imposing Tasos Mitropoulos. The latter had perhaps not always appeared to be in his best shape against Denmark, and the same would apply again here. His early yellow card served as a pointer to how his game was developing: Mitropoulos was almost being run in circles around. His agility and mobility were low, and it was almost as if their goalscorer against Denmark was turning into a liability on this performance.
They had the relatively stable Ilias Talikriadis in goal, a ‘keeper which seemed to have ousted AEK’s Theologis Papadopoulos, who had kept goal in the 1987 fixtures of their European qualification campaign. There had not been a whole lot of consistency in the Greek line-ups, though, and this also counted for the goalkeeper’s position. For their final European Championships qualifier, the 3-0 home loss against the Netherlands, they’d gone with a starting eleven of six (!) debutants, and among them had been Larissa goalkeeper Khristos Mikhail. They were now looking for stability. This game was Olympiakos custodian Talikriadis’ fourth straight start for the national team.
At full-back, Papapostolou had once again opted for the pair of Khatziathanasiou to the right and Kolomitrousis along the left. Would the latter be given a more conventional full-back role on this occasion than last time around? Khatziathanasiou was a strong, resilient player with an impressive tackling ability, and so far, with 20 minutes of the first half gone, he’d also been the sole visiting player in possession high enough in the pitch to have a pop at goal. Goalscoring was far from Khatziathanasiou’s forte, though, and his seventh minute effort from all of 30 yards, with possibly his weaker left foot, had drifted well wide of goal. Defensively, he looked to be faced with various opponents, as the hosts had no typical wingers in their line-up.
In the centre of their defence, Mavridis was appearing as their libero, though since Greece were generally sitting quite deep, he was hardly operating far behind the rest of his defence. He had Manolas ahead of him in a position where the AEK man more often than not would be in combat with Romania’s powerful striker Cămătaru. Unlikely to shy any confrontation, it did seem like a battle which Manolas relished, although he was not very successful so far. This owed also to the fact that Greece were under severe collective pressure.
While their original right-sided alibi, Bonovas, was given added central responsibility shortly into the proceedings, Greece did have an outright wide player to the left in their midfield. This was Nikos Tsiantakis, the only player to come into the eleven since the Denmark game, and this was in fact the moustached 25 year old Olympiakos man’s international debut. He did perhaps look a tad nervous initially, but as the game progressed, Tsiantakis looked more and more comfortable. He grew in confidence, dared to hold on to the ball, and showed some nice touches. He was a typically fleet-footed player, clearly favouring his left, and also had some ability in crossing. You could see that he was a possible asset to this side.
Up top, Greece had captain Nikos Anastopoulos in a central role. Heavily associated with Olympiakos, where he’d won the majority of his 74 caps, the 31 year old was now a player with mid-table Panionios. He’d struggled to shake off the attention from big Kent Nielsen in their previous game. Now, he was directly in combat with another strong defender in Ioan Andone. He had been played in by a chip from fellow forward Dimitris Saravakos as early as the fourth minute, though he’d finished over when face to face with Lung. It would not have counted anyway, as Greece had been flagged offside. Saravakos, in the process of replacing Anastopoulos in international stature among the Greeks, was again operating towards the right hand side, and possibly even more so once Bonovas needed to turn his attention towards the centre of the park. Quick, skillful on the ball and equipped with fine vision, Saravakos on his day was a player in the upper echelons of European football, but he was struggling to make much impact thus far due to his team’s lack of possession.
Goal in Bucharest
Romania are able to make use of long balls, too, something which they can decide to do when Greece are defensively in balance. It is not necessarily so that they look for striker Cămătaru when electing to go long; they might just as well try to reach one of their mobile midfielders. Romania are extreme in how they look to take advantage of any attacking gapes left exposed by their opponents, and in particular Mateuţ and Sabău are useful for this purpose. They have plenty of attacking variety, although in approaching 25 minutes gone, perhaps have they run out of steam a little? The earlier pressure has eased off somewhat, and Greece have been able to breathe. That is not to say that Romania are finished. Far from.
Just as the visitors think they might have fended off the initial heavy pressure from the Romanians, they fall behind. The goal is built up in traditional style by the hosts, involving defenders, midfielders and attackers alike. They work the ball into a right-sided position following a quick Popescu free-kick in the centre-circle, and Iovan feeds Lăcătuş a short pass to take beyond Kolomitrousis. The Romanian livewire makes it to the byline, from where he crosses high into the centre. Mavridis can not get much conviction in his attempted header out, and it only reaches Mateuţ just outside the area. The stylish midfielder is faced by lenient pressure from Khatziathanasiou, and he works it into a favourable shooting position just off the edge of the 18 yard box. His right-footed drive finds the net inside the right hand post, with goalkeeper Talikriadis beaten despite his advanced position in trying to narrow the angle. The Dinamo Bucharest ace now has two in two qualifiers.
Romania: a closer look
The home side have the lead that their play has warranted, and question is now whether they’ll take a less industrious approach. Not that it felt likely, as they had hardly taken their foot off the gas in Sofia. Now, playing at home and against an opponent of probably less quality, they would be expected to continue going forward in search of further goals.
Manager Emeric Jenei, the mastermind behind Steaua Bucharest’s fantastic European Cup triumph against Barcelona in 1986, had made use of the exact same starting line-up as in Bulgaria, and the outline appeared identical, too.
In goal, Romania had Steaua’s Silviu Lung, the goalkeeper who had served Universitatea Craiova so well for such a long period of time. Lung, 32 years of age, had been made captain by Jenei, and he had made the goalkeeper’s position his own both at club, since moving to the capital ahead of the 1988/89 season, and international levels. This was his 54th cap.
The four man in defence were, from right to left, Ştefan Iovan, Ioan Andone, Miodrag Belodedici and Iosif Rotariu. Three of them hailed from Steaua, making the defensive quintet, the goalkeeper included, carry a big Steaua print. Andone, the man-marking central defender, was the odd man out on this occasion. That is not to say he was anything like a weak link. Andone was strong in direct confrontation with an opponent, very useful in the air, and he was certainly also not without competence along the ground, where he could be seen making advance across the halfway line. However, as Romania were set up, this was not something he would do frequently, as the job mainly belonged to libero Belodedici, the classy 25 year old behind Andone. Belodedici, another European Cup winner with Steaua, had a natural swagger and aura about him, and he was obviously a major presence in the side. His physique also saw him conquer most opponents in the air. Along the flanks were two flexible players in Iovan and Rotariu, where the latter seemed a more natural player going forward than the more powerfully built Iovan. Still, Iovan also could provide fine assistance in the forward direction from the right hand side. Rotariu, however, needed to thread with caution, as he’d been booked on 17 minutes, quite harshly, for raising his foot against Manolas.
Three of the four midfielders have been briefly mentioned, though it is not as if the fourth member in the centre of the Romanian park doesn’t deserve any credit. If anything, Gheorghe Popescu does. The only player in their eleven not to hail from either of the two leading clubs in the country, coming from Universitatea Craiova, the 21 year old, in only his third appearance for his country, was playing with a maturity which belied his age. Popescu was a big presence in every way at the rear of their midfield, where he would either come and take the ball off the central defenders when they were mounting an attack, or he would efficiently deal with any opponent trying to spark creativity through the centre. Another sizeable player, Popescu would also provide more height at either end of the pitch for set-pieces, and he appeared to be the perfect player behind the rest of the Romanian midfield.
In fact, Romania based the game on their midfielders. Popescu would often hand the ball over to either of the three creative outlets ahead of him. The most prominent among them was surely Gheorghe Hagi, who might just be 23 years, but who had already reached the impressive number of 45 country appearances. He hardly needs further presentation, though it should be said that he was appearing at the helm of their midfield in a formation which replicated the shape of a diamond. Hagi was their number one set-piece taker, something which might at times have been a source of irritation for some of his team mates, as there were clearly other capable players in their side for delievery, too. His close control, range of passing, shooting and carrying the ball at high speed, all accumulated to Hagi being such a gifted player. However, his reputation also saw to that he was the one Romanian player whom the Greeks were constantly looking to deny space.
If Hagi could not be in the director’s role, he had two highly competent assistants in the shapes of Ioan Sabău and Dorin Mateuţ. The former, playing as something of an inside right, although he would frequently head wide into right-sided territory when Romania were in possession, was one of the team’s newcomers, and the Dinamo youngster, only 20, brought a huge amount of energy to their play. Having made his debut early in 1988, he was a regular feature in the side already, and his exploitation of little pockets of space inside of Greece’ left-back Kolomitrousis was invaluable to the hosts. Sabău’s dynamism and athleticism were major features in his play, and he seemed to link up very well with right-back Iovan and forward Marius Lăcătuş. This saw Romania rewarded with a very potent right hand side.
Sabău was proving a thorn in the Greeks’ side, but it was not so that Mateuţ was any less of an irritation. Sabău’s team mate at club level was not unsimilar to Hagi in his style of play. And he was, similarly to Sabău, looking to exploit the space left vacant between Greece’ central players and right-back Khatziathanasiou. Romania were spot on to utilise such tactics, as their midfielders’ aggression, flexibility and skill on the ball saw them roll over the Greek midfield. There was also some interchanging of positions, and at times the visitors simply could not live with their hosts. Still, it had taken Romania 26 minutes to open the scoring, and it had come courtesy of Mateuţ’ delicate right foot. The goal was his sixth at international level in 35 appearances.
While Romania were playing with two forwards, it is right to say that Lăcătuş was working less, distinctly less, through the centre than Cămătaru. The latter was your traditional old-school centre-forward type of player, so powerfully built and physical in every way, making sure that the Greek central defenders, predominantly Manolas, were heavily occupied. Whilst the impression left of Cămătaru was perhaps that he did not seem like a natural goalsorer at international level, his two strikes in Sofia had brought his tally to a very respectful 19 from 65 appearances. He resembled a tank, and pace was perhaps not his greatest asset, but he would still be a very resourceful member in a technically highly advanced team. Feeding off him, operating usually along the right, was Lăcătuş, another player who felt high up in the internal rank. Lăcătuş was quick, he enjoyed taking a man on, and he would provide useful crossing from the right hand side, such as when he’d put the ball into the centre for the opening goal.
In the wake of the goal
As expected, Romania did not retract to defend their lead; they wanted more goals. Their next two threats would come from headers. The first of these was when Romania recycled the ball towards the left hand side after a poor original free-kick, and when Mateuţ whipped a cross into the centre, Andone, who had stayed up from the initial set-piece, connected with his head eight yards out. Unfortunately for the defender, he could not guide it to either side of Talikriadis, who collected comfortably, meaning Andone could not add to his two goal international tally. A minute after, with 32 minutes gone, it was Popescu who rose in the centre to head over the bar from a decent position after Lăcătuş’ free-kick delievery.
Greece still had not mustered anything even remotely resembling a goalscoring opportunity. Defensive midfielder Tsaloukhidis opted to swing one at goal with his left foot from 25 yards on 34 minutes, but off balance it was never a threat to the home side’s lead, with the ball gently rolling into the expecting arms of Lung. Approaching 37 minutes, Greece win the ball when Romania are about to commit plenty of men forward again, thus seeing them with a chance to counter-attack. Kolomitrousis gains several yards along the left hand side in a burst, though as he is about to release Tsiantakis outside of him, he’s clattered to the ground by Andone. They had failed to take advantage, and Romania could regroup although they would concede a (weak) shot at goal from Tsiantakis in the left hand corner of the 18 yard area following Saravakos’ failed free-kick, struck right at the defensive wall.
Romania increase their lead five minutes before the break. They had not been at their scintillating best in the minutes preceding the goal, but when Hagi saw Cămătaru make a run towards the penalty area, the number 10 lifted a ball in behind the Greek defence in the striker’s direction. He had been tracked back by midfielder Tsaloukhidis for the occasion, and when it had looked like Cămătaru would gain control around the penalty spot, he was bundled to the ground by the Greek player. The referee was never in any doubt, having earlier decided against awarding Hagi a decision inside the area. The grande Romanian playmaker stepped up and smacked the penalty low into the right hand side of the goal with his left foot. Talikriadis was well beaten for 2-0. It was Hagi’s ninth goal for his country, and his first from the spot. The two goal cushion was no more than the hosts deserved after some of the enterprising attacking football that they’d dished out so far.
Through to half time
The game’s generally been played in a sporting manner, although there had been two yellow cards and some fouling going on. However, with the Greek players being frustrated at how they’re being dominated, there’s some uneccessary and rather ugly scenes three minutes from half time, when Manolas kicks Lăcătuş to the ground midway inside the Greek half. Mitropoulos then smacks the loose ball straight into the upper body of the Romanian forward whilst he’s on the ground, and Manolas is even seen dishing out a kick at the same player. Dirty, and totally uncalled for. However, this would not be the first time that Greece would lose their discipline in the current qualification. Lăcătuş was back on to his feet after some treatment from the magic sponge. The half subsequently peters out, but not until Cămătaru has got his head to a Iovan cross from the right, after the full-back had made fine advance. The header goes just over, though with Talikriadis in control.
After a poor first half showing from the visitors, would they attempt some half-time manoeuvres which could perhaps see them give a slightly more flattering account of themselves in the final 45 minutes? Or would their focus be on damage limitation, being well aware that the level of the opposition is too high?
There had been one change in player personnel during the interval, and that had indeed occured in the away camp, where slow midfielder Mitropoulos, already on a yellow card and having displayed some late first half aggression, had been left behind in the dressing room. On for the big central midfielder had come Giorgos Koutoulas of AEK Athens, a 21 year old defender at club level, for his Greece debut. Now how would he slot in? Surely, they could ill afford to surrender even further midfield advantage, meaning that either Koutoulas himself or someone else would slot into the place left vacant by Mitropoulos?
For the hosts, there had been no half-time changes. It was they who would kick off the second half, and they would do so through Cămătaru and Hagi. Oddly, though, the referee would order the kick-off to be taken a second time. The ball had already crossed the byline behind Greece ‘keeper Talikriadis, and he was looking to make his first goal kick of the half. The referee had been seen counting the players before the initial start, so both teams had been with all eleven men out. Obviously excited to get going, though, Lăcătuş had sprinted well inside the Greek half before the rew had blown his whistle. With Lăcătuş back inside his own half, Cămătaru and Hagi could repeat their initiation ritual, and the second half was eventually and officially under way.
An even more direct approach by the hosts?
Some early signs are that Romania are wanting to play the ball in behind the Greek defence at the start of the second period. The first evidence, that is after the original kick-off, which had been brought back immediately after Hagi’s attempted pass for Lăcătuş, is when Mateuţ spreads a delightful diagonal ball towards the right hand channel, where Lăcătuş has run himself free. Greece looked like they had wanted to push higher with their backline for the beginning of the half, perhaps to try and narrow the gap between their defence and midfield, so this is what they now left themselves exposed to. Lăcătuş raced on to the throughball and came darting towards goal. Goalkeeper Taliakridis came off his line and dived down at the forward’s feet, something which saw the Greek number 1 take the ball and Lăcătuş tumble to the ground. “Penalty!”, was what was written in his stare as he turned around to look for the referee. “Play on”, was what he got. On this occasion, it certainly looked like the referee had got his decision right, with Talikriadis’ bravery rewarded.
How Romania fail to increase their lead with just over 49 minutes passed is difficult to answer. Again, Greece look to push out and play Romania offside. The hosts had committed a whole lot of players forward in their initial wave of attack, but the cunning Mateuţ held his pass in long enough for Popescu to understand and take advantage of the situation. With several Romanians retreating back towards the halfway line, Popescu jetted off in the opposite direction, feeding on Mateuţ’ precise pass. The little midfield dynamo followed through, too, and so they were two host players racing in on goal with just Talikriadis between themselves and 3-0. Popescu proceeded to play a precise pass square for Mateuţ once he’d made it into the area from the right, though with the ‘keeper committed, Mateuţ mis-kicks when he has an open goal to aim at, some 14 yards out. He just wants to sidefoot it into the back of the net, but having taken his eyes off the ball, he doesn’t get the clean hit he’d wanted, and so he’ll have to watch in agony as the ball comes back off the inside of the post, with Mavridis booting it into touch.
By now, it was evident that debutant substitute Koutoulas had indeed slotted into the vacant midfield position, though it also seemed quite clear that he was tracking the movements of Hagi. Had Papapostolou brought Koutoulas to try and mark Hagi out of the game? Koutoulas was certainly more mobile than his predecessor, although he was hardly a midfielder by trade. His best position appeared to be at centre-half, possibly as libero. And if Greece really were committing a man to try and take one particular opponent out of the game, hadn’t they even further reduced belief in their own ability in the process? There was at least little suggesting in the early stages of the half that a comeback was imminent.
The early second half does not have so much pure quality as had been displayed by the slick hosts during the first half. They were clearly the superior side, let that much be clear, but you were also left with a feeling that they did not push as hard as they possibly could. Still, they should’ve been further ahead already, especially from that Mateuţ chance. They also have two more penalty claims to add to that early one from Lăcătuş, and four times in total now they had been denied by the Austrian referee, who certainly was tolerating no fuss. Mr Forstinger was a non-communicative figure, and he was trying to gain respect simply through being an authoritative character. This non-level of verbal approach hardly impressed, and it was not as if the game was littered by bad fouls, even if there had been that late first half incident. Still, there’d be a total of four bookings.
The two claims for penalty which came within the first ten minutes of the second half were when Cămătaru first had used his torso strength to nick the ball off Manolas to the left of the Greek penalty area. He sped inside, trying to get beyond Mavridis, and then went to the ground, though replays showed that he was trying to con the referee. Indeed, Mr Forstinger got his decision right on that occasion, and awarded the visiting libero a free-kick. This was well before the time when you’d see yellow for taking a dive, so there was no such concerns for the bustling striker. Next was Hagi, again, and his appeal seemed a more plausible one as he appeared to have been caught by Koutoulas in was trying to race past him inside the area. Still, nothing was given.
Bookings and a substitution
Perhaps are the home side thinking that they’ve done enough to secure the win. At least, that is how it looks. They can no longer find their fluent rhythm from earlier, and they fail to be creative in the same mould, rarely putting the visiting defence under severe pressure as the midway point in the second half is approaching. Their previously so coherent midfield struggles to provide any sparks, and Cămătaru is more or less left to his own devices up top, with Lăcătuş also something of a peripheral figure out on the right hand side. The latter, though, does have a moment when he attempts a sudden break on his own on the hour, but he’s clattered to the ground by Tsaloukhidis, who earns the match’ third booking.
Greece ought to have seen this laboured approach by the hosts as an invitation back into the game, but they do not possess the means. Mavridis has his first participation deep inside the Romanian half, but cannot find a team mate with his pass. Bonovas gains a fortunate free-kick when running into Belodedici 24 yards out, in a central position, but Saravakos again strikes the ball straight into the defensive wall, like he had done in the first half. And when the referee fails to award the visitors another decision just outside the Romanian half with Lung clearly handling a long ball from Mavridis in the direction of Bonovas, then you could almost forgive the visitors for thinking that it is not their day. To try and liven things up a little, they take off left-sided midfielder Tsiantakis and bring on Nikos Nioplias, a 23 year old whose preference is central midfield. Like the player he replaced, Nioplias, from the island of Crete, is also left-footed. Debutant Tsiantakis had been one of few Greek players with the ability to turn a man inside out, though due to his lack of speed, he had not been able to get beyond Iovan and into decent crossing positions.
Substitute Nioplias, clearly no natural wide player, does take up a somewhat more central position than his predecessor Tsiantakis, and this adds to the impression that the Greek midfield has narrowed quite significantly since the start of the game. They have had some success in bringing Koutoulas on in midfield for the off-form Mitropoulos, and the half-time substitute’s job on Hagi has also aided the visitors in their plight for an easier existence. With around 20 minutes left for play, the Greek midfield seems to be working with two players at the rear in Tsaloukhidis and Koutoulas, while Nioplias and the improved Bonovas, one of few Greeks able to match the energy levels of the home midfielders, are in slightly more advanced positions. Still, they can rarely reach the front two with precise passes, and there might indeed be an element of frustration in captain Anastopoulos when he’s come back deep inside his own half to concede a corner from Romania’s right wing. As Iovan, an odd replacement as a taker for Hagi on this occasion, wants to hit it into the centre, the ageing striker refuses to retreat the necessary ten yards, and Mr Forstinger comes sprinting out to the position where Anastopoulos is in order to display a fourth yellow card of the afternoon. The referee seemingly does so without saying a word, though he makes sure his abrupt body language once again tells everyone in attendance exactly what he thinks of such sabotage.
Where’s the hosts’ brilliance gone?
Romania had been something of a second half disappointment, even if they had threatened to score that elusive third goal early after the break. They had let their standards slip, and in looking almost on par with Greece, they had also made sure that some frustration had transfered to the stands. They could not reproduce their first half splendour, failing to shift the ball around at pace like they had done to find the openings throughout the Greek team. There had been the odd attempt at angling a ball from an inside left position, either through Mateuţ or Hagi, something which had been fruitful during the first half, in the direction of Lăcătuş. Greece were now aware of that particular threat, and had found it in them to prevent these tactics. Left-back Kolomitrousis seemed to stick tighter to Lăcătuş, who, in turn, had seemed reluctant to wander out of position to cause counting errors in the Greek backline.
Another thing which had been clearly more evident in the hosts’ play during the opening 45 minutes than after the break, was how their full-backs relished crossing the halfway line. Sure, it might have been according to instructions from the management that Iovan and Rotariu were now more reserved in their attacking approach, but it took an important element out of their game. In thrusting forward at will, the full-backs had helped Romania gain numerical advantage along both flanks, something which had been lacking in the second half. There is a full-back presence in the Romanian attack on 75 minutes, when Rotariu all of a sudden finds himself with a shooting chance from the edge of the area, although he does not seem comfortable when having to use his right foot, and his effort is a scewed one well wide of target, to the great dismay of Hagi just outside of him. Aren’t the hosts about to improve around this time, though? Two minutes later, after a lighteningly quick Romanian counter, where Talikriadis had had to race out of his area to concede a throw-in, the home side chose to introduce Claudiu Vaișcovici for Lăcătuş. This is an identical substitution which they’d made in Bulgaria.
Pace upped, goal follows
Romania have indeed improved. They have found again some of the pace and fluidity which were present during most of the first half, and with the quality of the home play picking up, Greece are once again severely on the back foot. They could well have begun to tire, the visitors, as they had covered a lot of ground to keep their opponents relatively quiet for large portions of the half so far, and there appears to be more space for the home side’s midfielders again, with both Mateuţ and Sabău coming to life. There had been a couple of efforts from distance, both from libero Belodedici, the first from 30 yards out, which Talikriadis had to concede a rebound from. They’d been able to clear their lines, though. The second had rolled weakly wide.
It is the increased pace which Greece struggle to contain, and this will eventually materialize in the hosts’ third goal. There is an element of fortune, as Sabău’s pass out into right wing territory for Iovan only just eludes Kolomitrousis, who stumbles as he tries to block the ball’s path. Iovan returns the ball for the on-rushing Sabău, and when faced with Mavridis on the edge of the area, he rides the challenge and darts towards Talikriadis, who comes out to face the midfielder. Before the ‘keeper or centre-back Manolas can get to him in time, though, Sabău has elegantly chipped the ball past the advancing Talikriadis and into the back of the net, albeit via the goalkeeper’s hand. Having been one of the game’s stand-out performers, the goal was fine reward for the 20 year young Dinamo man. It was his second international goal.
Romania see the game out in a controlled manner. They opt to take off their last goalscorer and bring on the experienced Michael Klein. The Corvinul man, aged 29, makes his 68th international appearance, highest in the team. He’s seen it all before. It is not as if he’s duly worried when Khatziathanasiou feels offended after Klein’s foul on him inside the Romanian half, upon which the frustrated right-back tries to pick a fight with the substitute. Klein walks calmly away from any controversy. In the remaining minutes, he takes over for Mateuţ in the inside left midfield position, with Mateuţ switching across to Sabău’s earlier inside right role. The first Romanian substitute, Vaișcovici, earning his sixth international, had directly slotted into Lăcătuş’ position wide up front. He would attempt a fine burst into the area in injury time, and having made it all the way to the byline, he tried to feed it into the centre, only to see the ‘keeper manage to palm it away for a right wing corner, upon which the game is up.
Romania tear into the visitors with a synchronized first half display in which their midfield reduce the visitors to extras. They produce slick attacking football involving a lot of men, and Greece are lucky to survive until the 26th minute before falling behind. The classy Mateuţ’ finish from the edge of the area is a peach, and when Hagi adds another from the penalty spot five minutes from half time, you sense the game is over. There was hardly ever a real contest anyway, with the gulf in quality very apparent.
Greece regrouped for the second half, although they could easily have fallen further behind before the game dropped in quality. The visitors made sure their midfield was more compact, and the decision to try and mark Hagi out of the game through substitute Koutoulas proved relatively fruitful. However, they did not manage to cause the Romanian defence any worries, and it was just reward for the home side when they eventually got their third late on through the highly energetic Sabău.
1 Silviu Lung 6.8
claimed a couple of crosses, saw to some backpasses, but did not have a save to make
2 Ştefan Iovan 7.4
first half bombed down the flank at will, and combined well with Sabău/Lăcătuş. More restricted in the second half, but a very competent performance from the imposing full-back
3 Ioan Andone 7.5
rock solid all afternoon. Totally dominated Anastopoulos. Could’ve scored with a header that went straight at Talikriadis
4 Iosif Rotariu 7.1
a steady left-back performance. Assisted well in going forward, and was rarely bothered defensively
5 Dorin Mateuț 7.9
so fluid and effective in his passing, moved around at will, and should have scored a second early in the second half. A master at the long diagonal ball forward, and a big source to Greek frustrations
6 Miodrag Belodedici 7.2
did not need to call on his undoubted world class, as his team mates were so good ahead of him. Had a couple of efforts from distance. Well-positioned, led by example defensively
7 Marius Lăcătuș 7.1
part of a well-functioning right hand side, though not always good enough in decisive moments. Did well to get the cross in which led to 1-0
(17 Vaișcovici –
pace and trickery saw him make it to the byline in a fine run in injury time. Showed a couple of nice combinations with Hagi, but did not threaten on goal)
8 Ioan Sabău 8.1
terrific game! Huge energy levels, a driving force from midfield, and was the major part of their efficient right hand side. Faced little competition from the Greek midfield, and ultimately deserved his goal
(15 Klein –
came on to let Sabău rest. Filled in as an inside left)
9 Rodion Cămătaru 7.4
a massive physical presence up front, where he ran himself into the ground. A big team performer, and dished out plenty of beatings
10 Gheorghe Hagi 7.6
showed some delicious touches, had several efforts from distance, all off target. Tucked away his penalty with aplomb, and worked very well with Mateuţ/Sabău
11 Gheorghe Popescu 7.6
patrolled the rear of midfield to great effect. Confident and assured, always available. A big presence in the air at both ends of the pitch
1 Talikriadis 6.7
could he have saved a couple of the goals? They were not errors, but his reach could perhaps be questioned. Other than that coped well, and felt assured when called upon
2 Khatziathanasiou 6.9
the more adventurous of the two full-backs, although his forward contribution was hampered due to him being in demand defensively. Not as overloaded as his opposite flank compatriot. Vented his frustration on Klein late on
3 Kolomitrousis 6.3
had a really difficult afternoon in which he was often faced with three opponents along his side. Conceded plenty of space inside, which the Romanians made use of. A non-feature going forward
4 Manolas 6.6
had a troublesome task in Cămătaru, but at least he gave a committed performance, even if he was not always spot on in his decision-making
5 Mavridis 6.6
benefitted from being less directly confronted than his central defensive partner, though was too easily passed for the third goal. Also headed straight into Mateuț’ path for the opening goal. Two attacking contributions yielded nothing
6 Tsaloukhidis 6.3
part of an exposed midfield unit first half, but saw an improvement after the break when Greece collectively were more compact. Perhaps lucky to stay on after a couple of assaults
7 Saravakos 6.1
quite anonymous, and his workrate was disappointing. Hit two free-kicks from promising positions straight into the defensive wall
8 Bonovas 6.8
grew in confidence as the game progressed. Begun wide, but functioned better when he was working inside. Showed plenty of energy, but always fought a losing battle
9 Anastopoulos 6.2
outmuscled by Andone, and needed to come deep to participate in the game. One of the more frustrated players in the Greek side, and saw a totally needless yellow
10 Mitropoulos 6.0
slow, poor precision, unable to get close enough to the opponens. Suffered from his early booking, but his physique was not right for this contest anyway. Substituted at half-time
(13 Koutoulas 6.7
covered quite a lot of space, proved efficient against Hagi, and was also involved in some creative play, even if his close control ultimately failed him)
11 Tsiantakis 6.7
certainly not the worst Greek performer out there. Showed some ability in taking a man on, though lacked pace to make it to the byline. Backtracking also not his favourite, but in possession among the better visitors
(14 Nioplias –
brought on in a more central position, but could rarely influence on the game. Had a shot from distance blocked)
Here are domizio’s original marks for the Romanian players:
1 Silviu Lung 6.6
2 Ştefan Iovan 7.2
3 Ioan Andone 6.9
4 Iosif Rotariu 6.9
5 Dorin Mateuț 7.6
6 Miodrag Belodedici 8.2
7 Marius Lăcătuș 7.0
8 Ioan Sabău 7.8
9 Rodion Cămătaru 7.1
10 Gheorghe Hagi 7.3
11 Gheorghe Popescu 7.9