Gheorghe Hagi talks UEFA.com's man in Romania, Paul-Daniel Zaharia, through half a dozen of the most unforgettable matches from his stellar career.
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Arguably Romania's greatest-ever player, Gheorghe Hagi represented some of Europe's most famous clubs during an illustrious career. As the one-time FC Farul Constanța, FC Sportul Studenţesc, FC Steaua București, Real Madrid CF, Brescia Calcio, FC Barcelona and Galatasaray AŞ playmaker – a scorer of 35 goals in 125 appearances for his country – turns 50, UEFA.com recalls six of his most momentous matches in the words of the man himself.
FC Steaua Bucureşti 1-0 FC Dynamo Kyiv – 1986 UEFA Super Cup, 24 February 1987, Monaco
The Steaua debutant's deflected 44th-minute free-kick was the first goal scored in the UEFA Super Cup for over two years, after the 1985 edition (Juventus v Everton FC) had been cancelled, and it was all the Romanian side would need to secure their second piece of European silverware in nine months. "I was transferred from Sportul Studenţesc a few weeks before this match, which was my first official one for Steaua," said Hagi. "I had come to a big club and one of my most intense dreams came true in Monte Carlo. Not only did I win a trophy with a Romanian team, I also scored the winning goal. What could be nicer?"
Real Madrid CF 5-2 CA Osasuna – Spanish Liga, 12 January 1992
Having won possession in midfield, Hagi unleashed a shot from fully 50 metres that was voted in an online poll on Marca as the most spectacular long-distance goal in Spanish Liga history. "Again, this was another important moment in my career. The goal came in the midst of some very good displays during my second season with Real. They were my first foreign club after three and a half years at Steaua and after this goal I earned the respect of everyone – my team-mates, the club, the media and the fans. It was not easy, but I managed to be respected at such a big club and by so many people who know so much about football. My career had new dimensions after this goal."
RC Celta de Vigo 2-4 FC Barcelona – Spanish Liga, 11 December 1994
No sooner had Sebastián Losada reduced Celta's arrears to 3-1 in a match played in thick, blanket-like fog on the Galician coast, then Hagi took matters into his own hands to restore Barça's three-goal lead. Teed up by Romário from the kick-off, Hagi found the back of the net with a left-footed strike that was as breathtaking as it was audacious.
"Why this goal and this match? It was my first year at Barcelona and there were several rumours and discussions about me, such as why me at Barcelona? Why this year? And so on. But the coach, Johan Cruyff, had faith in me and gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. I repaid his confidence and practically ended all the talk. I did my best throughout my career and goals such as the one I scored in Vigo, together with my overall style of play, demonstrated who I was."
Galatasaray AŞ 0-0 Arsenal FC (aet, Galatasaray win 4-1 on pens) – UEFA Cup final, 17 May 2000, Copenhagen
Hagi was dismissed early in the first period of extra time, but Galatasaray's ten men held firm to become the first Turkish club to lift European silverware. "This was something special for everyone who was at Galatasaray at the time. Who would have believed that we would beat Arsenal to win a trophy? I played well, despite seeing red. Even after so many years I don't think I deserved to be sent off, but this doesn't overshadow the first European trophy for a Turkish team and the wonderful years I spent in Istanbul, winning so much, including the UEFA Super Cup. Those memories, trophies and the love of the fans will stay with me forever."
Romania 1-1 Argentina – FIFA World Cup, 18 June 1990, Naples
Hagi was inspirational as Romania gained the point they needed against the holders – for whom Diego Maradona was playing on his home ground, the Stadio San Paolo – to progress to the knockout stage. "At my first World Cup, I, along with my team-mates, passed a very important test. It was also my first duel with Maradona and it was something special for me to be compared to him, to be called the 'Maradona of the Carpathians'.
"I was better than him in a very tough match. It was a point which helped us into the knockout phase, while Argentina went on to reach the final. I still regret that four years later, when we beat Argentina [3-2 in the round of 16] at the 1994 World Cup, Maradona was suspended so I could not face him again. It would have been interesting."
Colombia 1-3 Romania – FIFA World Cup, 18 June 1994, Los Angeles
Exactly four years after the above game, Romania encountered South American opposition again. Hagi scored his side's second goal against a Colombia team touted by many, Pelé among them, to land the trophy. "During the tournament I felt mentally and physically strong. Another dream came true in our first match, against a team rated more highly than us.
"The dream was to score at a World Cup – and what a goal! We played so well in the USA and it's such a pity we did not qualify for the semi-finals [Romania lost on penalties to Sweden in the last eight], but this victory in our opening game proved how good our generation was and paved the way for an unforgettable World Cup."