BOLOGNA, Italy — Just as Argentina stole a game from Brazil on Sunday in Turin, so England stole one from Belgium here Tuesday night.
The final score showed the English winning, 1-0, on a goal by David Platt in the next-to-last minute of overtime, but the winners were booed off the field by many in the crowd of 34,520.
The reason was not hard to understand: Belgium played far more creative, imaginative and positive soccer. Its attacking moves flowed, and it did not resort to brute force, as England often did, when the pressure was on.
Belgian midfielder Vincenzo Scifo was clearly the best player on the field, but Scifo is heading home today, and the English players will be traveling south to Naples for what promises to be an intriguing quarterfinal clash with Cameroon on Sunday.
English Coach Bobby Robson refused to admit, though, that his team was second-best on this night.
"Belgium had a bit more of the play in the second half," he said. "But we were always dangerous on the break. It was a very brave performance, with lots of fighting spirit and quality."
That view was not widely held, but Belgian Coach Guy Thys, who led many of these same players to a fourth-place finish in Mexico four years ago, was gracious in defeat.
Asked if it might not be better to play an unimaginative, physical game and win rather than an entertaining style and lose, Thys replied: "I think the winner is always right (but) if the match had to be replayed, I'd do it the same way.
"We dominated for three-quarters of the match and hit the post (with shots) twice. Luck was not with us today. It was one of the best of our matches, but that's the way it goes."
Both teams were unlucky not to score in the regulation 90 minutes, and, until Platt's game-winner, it looked as if the game might be decided on penalty kicks.
But, in the 119th minute, Danish referee Peter Mikkelsen, who officiated well throughout the game, awarded England a free kick directly in front of the goal but about 40 yards out. Paul Gascoigne floated a high ball into the penalty area and Platt, taking a swing at it before it hit the ground, was almost as astonished as the Belgian goalkeeper to see the ball fly into the net.
Platt was immediately mobbed, while Gascoigne ran to the English bench and was lifted off his feet.
The Belgians, meanwhile, were shattered. The game had no sooner restarted when Mikkelsen blew the final whistle and their World Cup was over.
How different it might have been had Scifo's shot in the 49th minute been a foot or so to the right instead of crashing into the left post--just as Jan Ceulemans' shot had done in the 15th minute. Other Belgian chances went just wide or were saved by England's goalkeeper, Peter Shilton.
For its part, England was unlucky to have an apparent goal by winger John Barnes disallowed in the 40th minute. Barnes took a pass from Gary Lineker and drove the ball into the net, but Austrian linesman Helmuth Kohl ruled that Barnes had been offside.
"I haven't seen the replay but my immediate thought was that it was a perfectly good goal," Robson said.
Asked about Scifo's shot that hit the post, Robson said: "It was a remarkable shot; he was desperately unlucky.
"We've earned a very good victory against a pretty solid team. I thought we showed great ability and spirit. The team didn't die tonight. We're in the last eight, with Cameroon to play.
"It's very cruel for Belgium. I know how Guy Thys feels."
History suggested that one team or the other would score before the final whistle. Belgium had never been involved in a 0-0 tie in its 24 previous World Cup matches.
Before the match, the coaches had sparred verbally, each playing a different hand. Robson chose to praise Belgium, while Thys' strategy was to be blunt about England's shortcomings.
"If the defense does its job, especially against Paul Gascoigne who is powerful and fast, Scifo, Ceulemans and (Marc) Degryse will easily manage to slip through the holes in the English defense," Thys had said.
"England holds no secrets for me; it plays a game that is pretty easy to decipher and applies tactics that are certainly not inspired by the imagination."
The quote might have spurred England, but Robson did not rise to the bait.
"Belgium is a marvelous team, with one top footballer more than us--Vincenzo Scifo," he said. "But it is also the team that plays football in the way most like us."
Not the way the game was played Tuesday night, however. Then, Belgium was in a class by itself. But, as Argentina had shown by beating a far superior Brazil, 1-0, on Sunday, it is not always the better team that wins.
The winner of Sunday's England-Cameroon game will play either West Germany or Czechoslovakia in the semifinals in Milan on July 4.