Top 10: Players of USA '94

3. Gheorghe Hagi, Romania

He was the last of the great playmakers, and 1994 was probably the last time the young, bubbling Hagi really performed on the world stage before his retreat back into brilliant crabbiness. There was an elegance and a sense of mischief about him; the street urchin who had found his place at court. Short, stocky and bad-tempered, he also had a grace about his play; rarely have the torments of creation been so clearly written in a player’s demeanour.

Everything Romania did seemed to go through him. That was true even when fielding six midfielders to smother Colombia in their opener. Twice he laid in Florin Raducioiu to score, before curling in a preposterous goal from wide on the left. Did he mean it? He said yes, and the little glance he gave towards the far post just before looping the ball inside it tends to support him.

Where Romario scored in nudges, Hagi dealt only in extravagance. He pinged in a 25-yarder in a 4-1 defeat to Switzerland, and then slashed Ilie Dumitrescu’s square ball high beyond Islas in the 3-2 second-round win over Argentina. He converted his penalty in the shoot-out against Sweden in the quarter-final, but couldn’t prevent defeat.


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