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