For any player, scoring in a debut FIFA World Cup™ is something to cherish for a life time. In the case of former Romanian star Dan Petrescu, the memory is even fonder considering he netted the goal that sealed not only a famous win, but also his country's progression to the second stage.
The memory transports him back 20 years, to USA 1994, when Petrescu entered his first FIFA World Cup having missed Italy 1990 through injury. Romania, featuring a talented squad captained by Gheorghe Hagi, went into the group's closing game against the undefeated hosts knowing that only a victory would take them through. It took the visitors just 18 minutes to find the back of the net, Petrescu silencing the partisan fans in a packed-to-the-rafters Rose Bowl by scoring the only goal as they stormed into the Round of 16.
The *Tricolorii *would go on to achieve a milestone feat by stunning 1990 runners-up Argentina 3-2 as they progressed to the last eight for the first time. Yet the triumph against USA holds more significance for the former full-back.
"As a team, the victory against Argentina should be the most memorable for us because we played well as a unit and overcame the last tournament's runners-up," the 47-year-old Jiangsu Sainty manager told FIFA.com. "As an individual player, though, I would single out the game against USA since I scored an important goal."
The quarter-final finish remains Romania's best World Cup result but despite the history-making achievement, their penalty shootout loss to Sweden - where Petrescu missed his spot-kick - produced an ending he still laments today.
"Looking back, some say we were the surprise packages of the 1994 World Cup," he reflected. "But in fact, we were a potential team to beat. That was the golden generation of Romanian football. We had a great leader in Hagi and all the other players were talented too. To be honest, we entered that World Cup with hopes of reaching the final.
"We lived up to the expectations during the campaign. Had we won the penalty shootout against Sweden, we would have progressed into the last four and set up a meeting with Brazil. Considering the form we displayed, who could have ruled out our chances of beating the Brazilians to reach the final?"
Four years on, Petrescu and Co showed that their performances at USA 1994 were not a flash in the pan by again reaching the second phase. This time the on-song defender pulled off another memorable strike which sank England and helped pave their road to progression. His second World Cup goal had an even more personal aspect to it. By then, Petrescu had played in the English Premiership for four years, so squared up against familiar faces and the same supporters who cheered for him when he pulled on a Chelsea shirt.
In what proved to be an evenly contested match, Viorel Moldovan opened the scoring for Romania before Mike Owen drew England level with nine minutes left. Just as the game looked destined for a stalemate, Petrescu rose to the occasion, racing past Blues team-mate Graeme Le Saux to score the match-winner against his adopted country.
"I have scored numerous goals for my clubs and netted 12 times for my country. But the goal against England was special," he said. "At that point I played in the Premiership so I was clear about what players I would play against. As it turned out, I beat a club team-mate (Le Saux) to score and the then England coach (Glenn Hoddle) was the man who brought me to Chelsea. It was a special feeling to score against these people. But that's football."
It proved to be Romania's last World Cup showing to date, with the team having since failed in qualifying for all of the four most recent editions. With the team's progress of late, though, Petrescu thinks that it is time to end their long wait for a return to the global extravaganza.
"It has been too long for us to have missed out on the World Cup limelight," he said. "The team have impressed during qualifying for the next EURO and we are ranked seventh in the current FIFA World Ranking. I hope this squad can go to Russia and mark our World Cup return after two decades away."