Anghel Iordanescu waited 22 years for this. In a pre-match news conference that became somewhat tetchy, it felt as if the veteran Romania coach might have counted every one of those days.
The 1994 World Cup in the United States is a tournament remembered fondly by Romanian football fans, as a vintage line-up inspired by the mercurial Gheorghe Hagi dazzled en route to quarter-final penalty shoot-out heartbreak versus Sweden.
Iordanescu was the man at the helm, in the first of three spells as Romania boss, but there was one blot on their exploits in the USA – a 4-1 loss to Switzerland, then led by Roy Hodgson.
“Are you from Switzerland?” he smiled wearily when asked for his recollections on that painful day at the Pontiac Silverdome.
“We were a bit stressed on the pitch and we lost that game, but we had a lot of positive emotions afterwards.”
Positive emotions were not easily at hand in Paris on the eve of this Euro 2016 group game with Switzerland at the Parc des Princes.
Iordanescu called one journalist a liar and suggested he should not attend the match. The reasons were dual claims, swiftly refuted, that the Romanian coaches and players were at odds following the opening night loss to France and that Denis Alibec popped off for a cigarette before being introduced as a second-half substitute in Saint-Denis.
There were four changes in Iordanescu’s starting XI, with Alibec again waiting in the wings as Claudiu Keseru came in for Florin Andone as the attacking spearhead. But it was another omission that showed how reality for this 66-year-old tactician has changed and dulled with time.
It is an unfairly weighty comparison for the fledgling Steaua Bucharest playmaker, but Nicolae Stanciu is the present day Romania’s closest approximation to Hagi – all silken touches and bright ideas against France.
Here he was dropped, lending a yet more prosaic look to a side that kept eight clean sheets in 10 unbeaten qualifiers for this competition. What Romania have, they like to hold.
Talk of pre-match unease appeared to leak on to the field as they coughed up two clear chances for Haris Seferovic. Switzerland’s first choice striker could not take them and this is a status upon which his grip is loosening.
The Eintracht Frankfurt man might be 42 years Iordanescu’s junior but, when he made way to the rapturously received teen sensation Breel Embolo during the second period, he will have felt football’s sometimes cruel fates ageing him by the second.
Bogdan Stancu knew the pain of missing glorious opportunities, having earned little sympathy from his coach for two howlers at the start of each half against France.
He managed to score a penalty at the national stadium and did likewise here – Stephan Lichtsteiner’s low point of a maddening afternoon against Alexandru Chipciu coming when he grasped a handful of the left-flank irritant’s shirt inside the box and directly in front of the referee.
Chipciu and Gabriel Torje represented fresh legs on either wing and this was necessary within Iordanescu’s game plan, as each paid unwaveringly close attention to the rampaging capabilities of Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez from full-back.
When Rodriguez delivered the corner from which Admir Mehmedi clattered home the equaliser, he was probably equally pleased to have a couple of moments without Torje pestering him.
It made for a flat-back six at times as Switzerland managed a grasp of possession that tempered understandable frustration. As in their opening win over Albania, their attacking stars flickered without fully illuminating.
They were at least able to join hands and wearily accept “oles” from their travelling fans at full-time. Four points might well be enough to progress under UEFA’s expanded 24-team format.
Romania must now beat Albania, while Iordanescu still has a 22-year itch to scratch.
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