U.S. falls to Romania, 1-0, still can land in 2nd round

June 27, 1994|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,Sun Staff Writer

PASADENA, Calif. -- Before the World Cup began, the U.S. team had one basic, modest goal it wanted to achieve.

It wanted to advance out of its round-robin group into the second round of the tournament, becoming the first U.S. team to do so in 64 years.

Barring an unlikely set of results in games in other groups, the team's goal will be achieved. Yet the players weren't celebrating yesterday after completing round-robin play with a 1-0 loss to Romania before 93,369 at the sunburned Rose Bowl, where the temperature on the field was 115 degrees.

Had they simply tied the Romanians, the Americans would have finished in first place in Group A and faced an easier opponent, such as Bolivia or South Korea, in the second round. Instead, they finished third in the four-team group with a 1-1-1 record, and probably will play Brazil or Germany in the second round.

"It's very disappointing," said U.S. midfielder Mike Sorber. "We had a chance to put ourselves in a really good position, and now [the future] is out of our hands."

Romania, with two wins in three games, won the group, undoubtedly setting off a case of Romania-mania back home.

Switzerland, a 2-0 loser to Colombia yesterday, finished second. The Swiss and United States each finished with four points in the standings, but the Swiss earned second place on the basis of a better goal differential.

Romania's Dan Petrescu, a defender, scored the only goal yesterday on a sharply angled, 15-yard shot in the 17th minute.

The Americans had plenty of chances to score, both before and after Romania's goal. Midfielder John Harkes hit the goal post in the eighth minute.

The United States swarmed the goal in the last 30 minutes, but Romania's defense never leaked.

"It seemed like all they wanted to do was kick balls away [on defense] for the last 75 minutes," American striker Ernie Stewart said. "They just sat back and filled the defensive end. We had a lot more chances, but they got lucky and converted one."

The goal came on an elegant counterattack.

Romania's Gheorghe Hagi pushed the ball into an open space on the left flank, where Ilie Dumitrescu controlled it and centered it to Florin Raducioiu, who sent a leading pass to the right of the goal. Petrescu got behind Harkes, veered toward the goal and banged a low shot past goalkeeper Tony Meola.

Until the goal, the United States had dominated, seemingly still feeding off the thrill of upsetting Colombia four days earlier.

"I think they were shocked to be ahead," Stewart said, "and I VTC know we were shocked to be behind."

The big crowd was as quiet as the American team until U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic kick-started the attack midway though the second half by bringing in Cobi Jones and Roy Wegerle from the bench. The last 30 minutes was played almost entirely in front of Romania's goal, but the United States did not come that close to scoring.

"They did exactly what they had to do," U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos said.

As a result, the Americans will have to sit and watch the remaining round-robin games, hoping for the right combinations of wins and ties. No matter whom they face in the second round, they would be without Harkes, who was given his second yellow card of the Cup and has to sit out one game.

"It is very unlikely that we won't qualify," Milutinovic said. "We should be satisfied. We wanted to get four points, and we did. The only difference today is we hit the post and they didn't."

But what about having to play Brazil or Germany instead of Bolivia or South Korea?

"It will be a very nice experience for us," he said. "If they play better than us, congratulations. But in one game, anything can happen. If we play with enthusiasm, we can make history like we did against Colombia."

WORLD CUP TODAY

* Germany vs. South Korea at Dallas, 4:05 p.m., ESPN

* Bolivia vs. Spain at Chicago, 4:05 p.m., ESPN2

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