One day, one goal: Adrien Ilie kicks off Romania’s World Cup perfectly
In this column this time, we head to France. In 1998, Les Bleus won the World Cup at home, but this time we set our sights on Romania. There, Adrian Ilie played himself into the spotlight during that tournament.
Romania qualified for a World Cup for the seventh time in 1998, the last one they completed to date. Coach Anghel Iordanescu then had a team with living legend Gheorghe Hagi in its ranks. As recently as 1994, Romania impressed by reaching the quarter-finals in the United States. That is still Romania’s best ever performance at a World Cup.
In France, Romania drew Colombia, England and Tunisia. The players had struck a deal with their coach. “During a conversation before our first match against Colombia, we asked Mr Iordanescu if he was ready to shave his head bald in case of qualification after the first two matches. When he accepted, we decided that if he did, we would dye our hair. But first we had to beat Colombia and England,” Adrian Ilie told Vice in 2018.
In the first game, Colombia was the opponent and it was Ilie who ensured the narrow victory. In the extra time of the first half, the striker was played the leather after a heel from Hagi. Ilie dribbled an oncoming striker and he managed to leave the Colombian goalkeeper defenceless with a nice subtle ball touch. A particularly clever technically executed move by Ilie.
A few days later, Romania took on England and that match was won 2-1. As a result, they secured a place in the eighth finals after two matches. In the final group match against Tunisia, which ended 1-1, the players all appeared with blonde hair. In the next round, Croatia awaited. “The players thought they were on holiday. We had a bit of luck against Tunisia, before we made fools of ourselves against Croatia,” said commentator Emil Gradinescu during the World Cup.
And indeed, Romania were bowled out of the tournament by Croatia after a goal by Davor Šuker. For Adrian Ilie, the World Cup proved to be the ideal stage to put himself in the spotlight. He became Romanian footballer of the year and secured a transfer to Valencia. The striker played two Champions League finals there and became Spanish champion with Valencia in 2002.