SuperSport viewers on DStv will be counting down the days to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, with the tournament set to run from 20 November to 18 December and provide the most thrilling distillation of ‘The Beautiful Game’.
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One of the all-time great ‘cult heroes’ in FIFA World Cup history is Romanian playmaker Gheorghe Hagi, with the ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’ inspiring his national team to an incredible run to the quarterfinals of the 1994 tournament in the United States.
Hagi, who would sign for Barcelona in the wake of USA ‘94, got off to a flyer at the tournament when he inspired a 3-1 win for Romania over a highly-rated Colombian team – including a stunning long-range effort to make it 2-0.
“I scored goals that are now among the best goals in World Cup history,” Hagi none too modestly told renowned football magazine FourFourTwo 20 years later.
Romania topped Group A ahead of Switzerland, the United States and Colombia, before going on to face Argentina in the round of 16. This clash at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California is the most famous in all of Romanian football history.
Facing a star-studded Argentina (who were without the suspended Diego Maradona), ‘Tricolorii’ were given little chance of finding a way through the next round. However, Hagi engaged ‘God Mode’ and the Eastern Europeans went on to claim a stunning 3-2 win – with the man himself providing an assist and the winning goal.
Ilie Dumitrescu, who scored two goals on the day, described Hagi’s assist for his second as a “genius pass” that only the number 10 could execute. And he returned the favour with an assist of his own for Hagi to belt home a few minutes before the hour mark – Romania’s third and decisive goal.
“That was a fantastic game and none of the players from our so-called golden generation will ever forget that competition,” said Hagi. “I think it was the best ever performance from a Romanian national team. Not just the results, but also our impressive play – the fantasy style of our football.”
Romania went on to lose out on penalties at the hands of Sweden in the quarterfinals (after a thrilling 2-2 draw), but they – and Hagi in particular – left an indelible mark in FIFA World Cup history.
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