GENOA, Italy — If soccer games were decided by style points, Romania would have been a decisive winner over Ireland Monday at Luigi Ferraris Stadium in the second round of the World Cup. Instead, the victory went to the pluck of the Irish.
Romania's loss, 5-4 in a shootout, was not as much of an injustice as its coach, Emerich Jenei, suggested when he compared it to Brazil's loss to Argentina on Sunday. The Romanians were not that stylish.
But they were the more artistic, and aggressive, of the two teams that played here. All that got them was a scoreless tie against Ireland's disruptive defense at the end of 120 minutes--90 minutes of regulation plus two 15-minute lingering-death overtimes.
Then the game became a shootout or, more to the point, a crapshoot. To determine the winner, five players from each team traded penalty kicks. Who would bet against the luck of the Irish in a situation like that?
For additional protection, Ireland's goalkeeper, Patrick (Packy) Bonner crossed himself before each opponent's shot.
After four players from each team converted, Bonner guessed right on a right-footed shot to the left side of the net by Daniel Timofte and made a diving save.
Ireland's hopes rested on the right foot of David O'Leary, who was not cowed by the moment. He faked as if he might chip a shot to his left, sending goalkeeper Silviu Lung sprawling, then lined the game-winner into the right corner of the net.
Playing in its first World Cup, Ireland advances to the quarterfinals Saturday in Rome. It will play Italy, which beat Uruguay, 2-0, in Monday's other second-round game.
Asked for his thoughts about the next match, Ireland's coach, Jack Charlton, puffed on a victory cigar and said: "I'm thinking more about getting back to the hotel and having a few beers. We'll start worrying about Italy when we sober up tomorrow."
He will not have to drink alone. Several thousand of the 31,818 who attended the game were green-clad, flag-waving, song-singing, jig-dancing Irishmen.
"There'll be a party in this town tonight like they've never seen in their lives," Charlton said. "There'll be a party in Dublin like they've never seen before."
It is a bonus to Irish fans that their two heroes Monday--Bonner and O'Leary--are Irishmen. They are in the minority on a team that starts six Brits--four from England and one each from Scotland and Wales.
World Cup rules allow teams to enlist players who have at least one grandparent born in the country. But the Irish joke that all a player has to do to join their team is drink two Guinness Stouts.
It was not a joking matter, however, when the Irish Football Assn. hired Charlton. The fans did not object to him because he is not an Irishman, but because he is an Englishman.
A member of England's 1966 world champions and better known as the older brother of Bobby Charlton, the star of that team, he won over the Irish by taking them into their first European Championships in 1988 and, now, their first World Cup tournament.
Irish fans carried signs Monday that read: "St. Jack."
Followers of the sport who seem to prefer losing pretty to winning ugly criticize Charlton for a 10-man, swarming defense that appears designed to achieve scoreless ties. A punt downfield by Bonner is Ireland's most effective offensive weapon.
"We played against a team that doesn't do anything but bounce the ball," Jenei said. "Their style doesn't allow the development of soccer."
Romania's chances were diminished by the loss of its most potent forward, Marius Lacatus, who was disqualified because he received two yellow cards for flagrant fouls in the previous game.
"Certainly, we felt the need of Lacatus," Jenei said. "But the team responded well. We had a good game. At least, that's what I think."
But his team lost because it allowed itself at times to play down to Ireland's level. That included star midfielder Gheorghe Hagi, who is known as the Maradona of the Carpathians.
The real Maradona, however, might have found a way to win the game, as he did Sunday for Argentina against Brazil. Hagi could not.
As a result, the Romanians must return to an uncertain future in a country that is in political turmoil.
After the government summoned miners to put down demonstrations last week, more than 100 of the 1,500 fans who came to Italy with the team asked for political asylum.
Players who were told they would be able to sign lucrative contracts with teams in other countries do not know what the rules will be now.
"I'm sad for them," Charlton said.
Several Irish players tried after the game to console Timofte, a reserve midfielder who did not enter the game until the first overtime and was in tears after missing the penalty kick.
Because he allowed the players to choose among themselves in determining the penalty kickers, Charlton said he was not aware that O'Leary, also a reserve, would take the decisive shot until he saw the veteran defender walk boldly to the spot 12 yards from the goal.