Coverage of sports events these days targets international football, so almost exclusively, attention-grabbing is the World Cup in Russia. It is also these days that Romanian football remembers that the national squad’s last participation to a final tournament occurred twenty years ago.
As early as the inaugural edition of the World Championship held in Uruguay in 1930, Romania was in the race for world supremacy. No qualifiers were organized for that edition. 13 teams registered for the competition, of which 8 were from Latin America, 4 from Europe, plus the United States. Of the European teams joining Romania were Yugoslavia, Belgium and France.
Romania was part of the same group as Peru und Uruguay. In their debut game, Romania faced Peru. Despite a rough performance from the Peruvians, Romania grabbed a 3-1 win, although they were one man shy on the pitch, since at that time substitutions were not officially allowed even in the case of injured footballers.
In the following game, Romania faced the host country national team, Uruguay. Uruguay came up with an unruly opener, as the scorer had previously stepped out of the pitch with the ball. The Romanians leveled the score, but the referee denied the goal on account of a bogus offside. It was the moment when the Romanian lineup realized they couldn’t possibly win, and the ball hit the Romanians’ net three more times. The overall score was 4-nil and Uruguay made headway to the final which they would subsequently win against Argentina, 4-2.
Qualifiers were staged, however, for the 1934 edition hosted by Italy. In the preliminary group, Romania defeated Yugoslavia, sustained a defeat to Switzerland, and as a runner up team, got through to the final tournament, which was organized as an eliminatory system. Romania played one single match against the then Czechoslovakia and sustained a hard-fought defeat, 1-2, having had a 1-nil lead throughout the game. Czechoslovakia would reach as far as the final, where they conceded defeat to Italy, 1-2. In 1934, among the teams that, alongside Romania, went home after the very first round were Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands, France and Belgium.
France was the host country for the world championship of 1938. In the preliminaries, Romania’s officially designed opponents, Egypt and Argentina, pulled out of the competition, so Romania had yet another chance to play in the final tournament. Romania’s opponent in the first match was Cuba, and in Toulouse, the Romanians ignored the importance of the match, viewing it as a warm-up session. That proved fateful for the Romanians, who at that time only managed a 3-all draw. The replay of the match was officially decided, and the Romanians conceded an unjust 1-2 defeat, which the press of that time rated as the result of a biased refereeing. Even to this day sports newspapers’ still lay the blame on referees for a poor performance or a defeat on the pitch…The thing is that, in the following match, Cuba were trounced by Sweden, nil-8!
Romania waited for more than 30 years to yet again earn a place among the teams capable of playing in a final tournament. In 1970, Romania won the qualifying group, part of which were Greece, Switzerland and Portugal, and reached Mexico. At the helm of the Romanian team at that time was Angelo Niculescu, and Romania was distributed in the most difficult group of the final tournament, which included title holders England, Czechoslovakia and subsequent title winners, Brazil. England at that time boasted the presence of Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton, among others. Although the Romanian team was at that time excellent in terms of individual skills, the Romanian lineup put on a cautious defensive performance on the pitch, trying to avoid a crushing defeat. The “target” was reached and the Romanians conceded a nil-1 defeat, after a game they could have won, had they shown a little bit of courage!
In the following fixture, Romania felt free to prove their mettle, defeating Czechoslovakia, 2-1. The hero of the match back then was Florea Dumitrache, spotted for his huge talent by the great head-coach Helenio Herrera himself, among others.
Then the match against Brazil came, with the Brazilians boasting such great names as Pele, Jairzinho, Clodoaldo and Carlos Alberto. The Romanians conceded defeat after a memorable performance, twice defeating Brazilian keeper Felix, thanks to goals scored by Florea Dumitrache and Emerich Dembrovschi. Brazil eventually won, 3-2, and went on to crush Italy in the final, 4-1.
In the upcoming item on Romania at the World football Championships, we’ll be speaking about Romania’s following three participations, which also meant the most precious results for Romania’s national squad.