England's Euro 2000 dream was shattered on Tuesday night with a late penalty for Romania, winning 3-2 to finish second in Group A, and set up a Euro 2000 quarterfinals slot against Italy.
England, who only needed a draw to reach the last eight, were both outclassed by a technically better side and betrayed by two crucial blunders from goalkeeper Nigel Martyn and defender Phil Neville.
Romania, who beat England 2-1 at the 1998 World Cup, and were without suspended playmaker Gheorghe Hagi, repeated their feat here after undeservedly trailing 2-1 at the start of the second half.
Cristian Chivu was both hero and villain for Romania in the first half, opening the scoring in the 22nd minute, and then tripping Paul Ince for a penalty which Alan Shearer converted in the 41st minute.
It was the England captain's last match for his country before retirement.
Michael Owen, who scored against Romania at France 98, used his pace to put Kevin Keegan's side in front during first-half injury time, despite Romanian claims that the Liverpool ace was offside.
Two mistakes cost England the match - Martyn's punched clearance flew straight to Dorinel Munteanu, who volleyed a 48th minute equalizer, and Neville's reckless late tackle on Viorel Moldovan gifted a penalty in the 89th minute.
Substitute Ioan Ganea converted the spot-kick as England were beaten for the second time at Euro 2000 after being in front; their lesson from the 3-2 defeat to Portugal after leading 2-0 had clearly not been learned.
Coach Kevin Keegan admitted that his team simply weren't good enough - and that their passing was not up to the level of top international football.
"As a squad, we never performed to our capabilities in this tournament," he said.
"Our strength is in our commitment and a lot passion," he said. "But those strengths alone, without passing a football well and having a bit of invention, make it difficult to win football matches. And that's my honest assessment."
He summed up: "We weren't unlucky here tonight. We just weren't good enough to go out and grasp the opportunity."
Romania coach Emerich Jenei said: "We deserve to be counted among the top eight teams in Europe.
"England are a very strong team physically. But thanks to the collective effort of my players in the absence of Hagi we have triumphed."
Looking ahead to Saturday's clash with Italy, he said: "I am confident that we will beat another of Europe's major footballing powers."
In what proved to be a major setback, England lost goalkeeper David Seaman before the kick-off - the Arsenal star picked up a left leg injury during the pre-match warm-up and being replaced by Martyn.
Martyn had a baptism of fire after Martin Keown tripped Adrian Mutu on the edge of the area and a searing free-kick from Munteanu, voted Man-of-the-Match, was pushed away by the Leeds keeper after only three minutes.
Romania soon settled into their neat passing game while England were hesitant moving forward and scrappy at the back.
Chelsea's Dan Petrescu, who scored Romania's winner against England in the 1998 World Cup finals, put Moldovan through in the 15th minute but the Fenerbahce striker's shot was straight at Martyn.
A diving Sol Campbell very nearly connected with David Beckham's free-kick at the other end, but then Romania took the lead.
Chivu, booked four minutes earlier for a foul on Beckham, cut down the left-hand side of the area and his chip caught Martyn unawares going in off the post although the suspicion remained that the defender had actually intended to cross the ball to Moldovan.
Reeling from the blow, England nearly conceded another within two minutes when Adrian Ilie broke down the left before booming in a dangerous drive.
Romania lost skipper Gheorghe Popescu after rupturing a calf muscle in a collision with Beckham, but very nearly added a second. Ilie beat England's rickety offside trap to meet a cross by Cosmin Contra but failed to beat Martyn with a header from 10 meters.
There was another fright for England just three minutes later when Chivu beat Gary Neville to the ball and sprinted through to blaze his shot over the top.
England were in trouble, but found an equalizer just when they needed it after Ince was tripped by Chivu in the area.
Shearer stepped up for a text-book penalty - sending goalkeeper Bogdan Stelea to the right and the ball driven hard to the left.
Now it was Romania's turn to be unsettled with two yellow cards in as many minutes - Ilie being booked for a dive in the penalty area.
And there was a sting in the tail when Paul Scholes chipped in a defense-splitting pass and Owen just beat the offside trap - speeding through to knock the ball past Stelea and then slot into an empty net.
However, the lead lasted only as long as the half-time rest.
The second half was only three minutes old when Martyn's punched the ball out to Munteanu, who chested it down before volleying home from the edge of the area.
England now had a fight on their hands. Ilie scuffed in a low shot which Martyn blocked, Shearer picked up a yellow card for diving in the area and Dan Petrescu tried a long shot in the 70th minute which Martyn caught hands raised.
Seven minutes later, Martyn had to get down quickly to a low shot through a crowded goalmouth from Mutu as Romania kept up the pressure.
Then came the crucial moment. Phil Neville floored Moldovan on the right side of the area - and Ganea made no mistake from the spot.
Defeat was a crushing blow to the England players, who had recorded their first win over Germany for 34 years here on Saturday night.
But after a weekend of hooliganism by their fans, England's exit will nevertheless be greeted with a sigh of relief by millions across Belgium and the Netherlands.
UEFA had threatened to kick England out of Euro 2000 if the trouble continued - Romania spared them the effort -- (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)