Romania were only 3rd seeded in Group 1 of the European qualifers for the 1990 World Cup, but had a team most people would reckon capable of fighting for the one spot that would give automatic qualification. They had last time participated in a major tournament in the 1984 Euros, and since narrowly missed out both on the 1986 World Cup and 1988 Euros. In the latter, they only let go of their opportunity in the last game, as they failed to beat Austria at Praterstadion. Perhaps no shame to only see Spain ahead of them in the table, but Romania felt they had a team able to compete at the biggest stage, and would no doubt be a tough opponent for any team.
Emerich Jenei gave it another go as manager for the national team, and decided to rely on much the same group that had played in the preceding qualifiers. That involved star players like Gheorghe Hagi, Miodrag Belodedici and Marius Lăcătuș. The team’s main loss was that of Ladislau Bölöni, who looks to have retired from international football, and Jenei would have to find a replacement in time for the 1990 qualifiers.
20.09.1988 Romania 3-0 Albania
Goals: Belodedici, Hagi, Cămătaru
Line-up: Lung – Iovan (Bombescu 72), Belodedici, Andone, Ungureanu – Lăcătuş, Sabău (Mateuţ 60), Popescu (Săndoi 60), Hagi (c), Rotariu (Klein h-t) – Vaișcovici (Cămătaru h-t)
This was Popescu’s debut. He was also the only player in the team who did not represent Dinamo or Steaua. With the congestion of the best Romanian players in Dinamo and Steaua that took place around 1988, Popescu of U. Craiova was often the sole representative of the other clubs in Romanian football. In this game against Albania, Rotariu also made his full debut in the team, as a left sided midfielder (Ungureanu at the left back).
Romania’s team selection autumn 1988
19.10.1988 Bulgaria 1-3 Romania
Goals: Mateuţ, Cămătaru 2
Line-up (4-4-2): Lung (c) – Iovan, Belodedici, Andone, Rotariu – Sabău, Popescu, Hagi, Mateuţ (Klein 86) – Lăcătuş (Vaișcovici 56), Cămătaru
It is an impressive display by Romania, introducing themselves in these qualifiers with fluid, high tempo attacking play. Especially the right side with Iovan and Sabău looks promising. The Bulgarians push forward, but the spaces they leave behind are well exploited by Romania. Mateuț continues his goal spree and Cămătaru gets two.
02.11.1988 Romania 3-0 Greece
Goals: Mateuţ, Hagi (pen.), Sabău
Line-up (4-5-1): Lung (c) – Iovan, Belodedici, Andone, Rotariu – Lăcătuş (Vaișcovici 78), Sabău (Klein 86), Popescu, Hagi, Mateuţ – Cămătaru
A dominant performance by Romania, proving themselves in full control against their opponents. Romania are showing technique and tempo that the Greek players simply cannot follow, and were now standing out as favourites in group 1.
23.11.1988 Romania 3-0 Israel
Goals: Cămătaru, Mateuţ 2
Line-up: Lung (c) (Stelea 70) – Iovan (Rednic h-t), Belodedici (Klein h-t), Andone, Ungureanu – Vaișcovici, Sabău, Popescu, Mateuţ, Rotariu – Cămătaru (Săndoi 62)
Monday 21st of December 1988, Miodrag Belodedici defected from Romania to Yugoslavia. As a consequence, he was suspended from the national team. With Belodedici continuing his career with Yugoslavian powerhouse Crvena Zvezda, Romania were left without their star libero.
29.03.1989 Romania 1-0 Italy
Line-up (4-5-1): Lung (c) – Petrescu, Rednic, Iovan, Klein – Lăcătuş, Sabău, Popescu, Hagi (Lupescu 90), Mateuţ – Cămătaru (Cigan h-t)
In lieu of the defected Belodedici, Mircea Rednic is called upon to play libero. It is also the debut of Dan Petrescu.
12.04.1989 Poland 2-1 Romania
Line-up: Lung (c) – Petrescu, Rednic, Bombescu (Săndoi 65), Klein – Sabău, Hagi, Popescu, Lupescu (Cristea 70), Mateuţ – Cămătaru (Vaișcovici 65)
26 April 1989
Greece 0-0 Romania
Line-up (4-5-1): Lung (c) – Iovan, Rednic, Bombescu, Klein – Hagi, Sabău, Popescu, Lupescu (Dumitrescu 79), Mateuţ – Cămătaru (Vaișcovici 90)
Despite being the better team for the opening hour, Romania would proceed to drop their first point of the qualifiers. It had been their first match without defected libero Belodedici, whilst the busy Lăcătuș was out through injury. Eventually, Romania had been a tad fortunate to even escape with a point, as they were outfought by an aggressive home side in the final 30 minutes
Romania’s team selection spring 1989
17.05.1989 Romania 1-0 Bulgaria
Line-up (4-4-2): Stelea – Iovan (c), Rednic, Bombescu, Rotariu – Sabău (Dumitrescu 84), Popescu, Hagi, Mateuţ (Klein 64) – Lăcătuş, Cămătaru
It is a good first half by Romania, looking as impressive as they have been so far in these qualifiers. But just as in Athens, the 2nd half is shaky, and they look vulnerable to Bulgarian counter-attacks. Still, they hold on to their win and keep the lead in the group before the deciders against Denmark.
31.08.89 Portugal 0-0 Romania
Line-up: Lung (c) – Petrescu, Iovan, Rednic, Andone, Rotariu – Sabău, Popescu, Hagi (Vaișcovici 76) – Lăcătuş, Dumitrescu (Mateuţ h-t)
05.09.89 Czechoslovakia 2-0 Romania
Line-up: Lung (c) – Petrescu (Săndoi 60), Iovan, Rednic, Andone, Rotariu – Sabău (Muzsnay 70), Popescu, Hagi – Lăcătuş, Dumitrescu (Klein 60)
These results meant that Romania had now scored only 1 goal in their last 4 internationals. Had Romania lost their good form from 1988? There must have been nerves ahead of the two deciders against Denmark later that autumn.
11.10.1989. Denmark 3-0 Romania
Line-up (4-5-1): Lung (c) – Iovan, Rednic, Andone, Klein – Rotariu, Sabău (Lupu 64), Popescu, Hagi, Mateuţ – Cămătaru
Romania are soundly beaten by in-form Denmark. Ienei fields a very flat 4-5-1 that proves to be dysfunctional (a change forced by the absence of Lăcătuș). Denmark take over the lead in the group, 1 point ahead of Romania
Everything was set for a decider in Bucharest between Romania and Denmark. In October/November, a sort of “mini-final” was played in the Champions’ Cup, as PSV with four Danes met Steaua. The encounter ended with an emphatic win for PSV in Eindhoven. Bad omens for Romania?
Romania 3-1 Denmark
Goals: Balint 2, Sabău
Line-up (5-3-2): Lung (c) – Petrescu, Iovan, Popescu, Andone, Rotariu – Sabău, Hagi, Lupu – Lăcătuş (Mateuţ 78), Balint (Ungureanu 86)
Romania rediscover shape just in time to qualify for Italia’90. It is Balint, who makes his first appearance in the qualifiers, who becomes the hero with two goals. But it is a very open-ended game, and Romania were living dangerously for long periods before finding the third goal. There is some bitterness, though, as Hagi is sent off and now will miss the first match of the 1990 World Cup.
Romania started strongly, but in the end only just managed to qualify after beating a much improved Denmark at Ghencea. Their campaign got off with a perfect start against Bulgaria (a) and Greece (h). In fact, Romania’s luck appeared to have gone with the exit of Miodrag Belodedici. With the flight of the impressive libero, Romania had a hard time securing the points against Greece (a) and Bulgaria (h). Despite this, they were still the better team in their matches, but didn’t look that convincing anymore. Hard to explain everything by the absence of Belodedici, but it had to count for something.
In autumn 1989, they were up against Denmark for the battle of the single automatic qualifying spot. There can be no doubt that Denmark came into these games as the team in form. Romania looked without shape in Copenhagen and deservedly lost. The absence of Marius Lăcătuș was important: the five man midfield Jenei played in Copenhagen looked static and was checked by a disciplined Danish side. For the final game, Lăcătuș was back, and the team looked like its old self.
Ahead of the 1990 World Cup, one could in November 1989 already identify some important questions for Jenei. Where should Gica Popescu play? Libero or defensive midfielder? And should the team play 4-1-3-2 or 5-3-2?
Final position: 1 (out of 4 – qualified)
Total record: 6 4 1 1 10-5 9
Home record: 3 3 0 0 7-1 6
Away record: 3 1 1 1 3-4 3
Number of players used: 22
Number of players including unused substitutes: 26
Ever-presents (540 mins): 2 (Iovan and Popescu)
Leading goalscorer: Sabău, Mateuț, Cămătaru, Balint (all with 2)
Yellow/red cards: 8/1
– game by game
|Player||Bul (a)||Gre (h)||Gre (a)||Bul (h)||Den (a)||Den (h)||Apps||Mins|
04.02.1990 Algeria 0-0 Romania
Line-up: Lung (c) – Petrescu, Iovan, Andone, Rotariu – Lăcătuş, Sabău, Popescu, Hagi, Lupu (Cheregi 75) – Balint (Ş Stoica 75)
28.03.1990 Egypt 1-3 Romania
Goals: D Timofte, Balint 2
Line-up: Liliac – Petrescu, Rednic, Andone, Cristea – Lăcătuş, D Timofte, Popescu, Hagi (c) (Mateuţ 71), Lupu (Dumitrescu 81) – Balint
03.04.1990 Switzerland 2-1 Romania
Goal: Hagi (pen.)
Line-up: Liliac – Petrescu, Popescu, Săndoi, Cristea – Lăcătuş (Ş Stoica 70), Hagi (c), Muzsnay, Dumitrescu (Cheregi 75), Rotariu – Balint
25.04.1990 Israel 1-4 Romania
Goals: Balbul (own goal), Hagi (pen.), Sabău, Balint
Line-up: Liliac (Stelea 68) – Rednic, Popescu, Andone, Klein (Popa 81) – Lăcătuş, Sabău, D Timofte (Rotariu h-t), Hagi (c) (Dumitrescu h-t), Lupu (Muzsnay 68) – Răducioiu (Balint 58)
21.05.1990 Romania 1-0 Egypt
Line-up: Lung (c) – Rednic (A Popescu 72), G Popescu, Andone, Klein – Lăcătuş, Sabău, Rotariu, Hagi (D Timofte h-t), Lupu (Dumitrescu 74) – Cămătaru (Răducioiu 65)
26.05.1990 Belgium 2-2 Romania
Goals: Rednic, Lăcătuş (pen.)
Line-up: Lung (c) – Rednic, Popescu, Andone, Klein – Lăcătuş (Balint 88), Sabău (Mateuţ 81), Rotariu, Hagi (D Timofte h-t), Lupu (Dumitrescu 58) – Cămătaru (Răducioiu h-t)