Saturday 24th June 2000, Brussels
Italy 2-0 Romania (42,500)
Well we fulfilled our bit of the equation, we made it to the Roi Baudouin Stadium in Brussels for the Euro 2000 quarter-finals and so did the Italians but instead of En-ger-lund we got Romania. It made for a relaxing crossing by Eurostar and a fantastic weekend but part of me regretted the fact that Phil fucking Neville gave away a needless penalty in the dying seconds of England’s deciding game with Romania. So we got to see Hagi rather than the Neville brothers.
The comical elimination of England might have been frustrating but we were determined to enjoy our last weekend at Euro 2000. Travelling over by Eurostar was effortless, we were all refreshed and reinvigorated. We wanted more footie and more Belgian beer and we wanted it now! We revisited the Lop Lop cafe and discovered it had been attacked by Turks in our absence (sadly a recurring theme although largely ignored by our own press) but the toughened safety glass had held so it was back on the beer menu ticking off our faves. We kept half an eye on the Portugal vs. Turkey encounter and were pleased to see class triumph over evil by a score of two goals to nil.
Travelling out to Heysel Stadium, sorry I mean the re-named and rebuilt Roi Baudouin Stadium, it felt genuinely exciting. The knock-out stages had finally arrived and the thousands of Italians were in a high old state of anticipation. Their team, so ridiculed before it left home had suddenly rediscovered the old black arts of defence. They were reborn, they were suddenly genuine contenders. For Romania, well how would they play – like the slick team that did for England or the disparate collection of individuals so subdued against Portugal?
Our seats were high up in the Gods behind the goal above the Italian fans. The stadium is still quite shallow and the huge running track makes everything rather distant. Our position was not ideal. To be honest the whole design is not conducive for creating any sort of passion and noise. The thousands of empty seats in the Romanian end didn’t help matters.
The game was a bit too one sides to be all that exciting. The Italians cruised into a two goal lead and were then content to keep what they had. They were also good enough to do so despite the best attempts of Hagi, Mutu and Moldovan. The Italians showed flickers of invention and threats of pace but it wasn’t until the 33rd minute that they struck when Totti (a great name) burst through the offside trap to score with continental ease. The defining moment of the game came soon after. Hagi lobbed the on-rushing Toldo only to see the ball clip the post and go wide. Before half time Inzaghi had broken through the defence to guide home a clinical killer second. There was to be no Hagi-inspired fightback.
The second half brought only frustration for neutrals and Romanians. The Italians closed down the game, Hagi, already booked for retaliation received a second booking for “diving” in the 63rd minute and his international career was over. The fact that he was fouled and that it should have been a penalty added insult to injury. Still after what they’d done to England in 1998 and 2000 I wasn’t too sorry. The last phase saw occasional Romanian half chances but Italy came closest to scoring a third when Inzaghi saw his shot pushed onto a post. We left the ground a bit underwhelmed, the Italian fans might be noisy, colourful and entertaining, but the same couldn’t be said about their team. Time then to go back to the Lop Lop cafe for beers and then bed.