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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hagi: East Hides EuroChampions

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romanian soccer star Gheorghe Hagi has issued a warning -- watch out for Eastern Europe in general, Croatia in particular.


"It is very possible that a national team from Eastern Europe will win at Wembley," Hagi said of the June 30 Euro 96 final.


"Croatia has in their ranks many of the most outstanding international players, and I'm giving them a real chances," he said.


Romania's most capped player was one of the top stars at the 1994 World Cup, leading his team to a surprising quarter-final finish.


"In recent years, Romania and Bulgaria played a key role in international soccer, winning important official games and snatching spectacular qualifications for almost all great world and Europe competitions," Hagi saud.


"Nobody can now consider it a surprise if Croatia, Bulgaria, Russia, the Czech Republic or Romania reach, some of them, the European semifinals in England."


Hagi said the roots of a possible Eastern European triumph at Wembley lay in the political upheaval of the old Eastern bloc.


"When the borders opened after the fall of communism, the great players from these countries met the high professionalism of Western soccer and they have gone even further with their skill," Hagi said. "The ex-communist countries' players became much more motivated, living free and earning real money."


Hagi said the Western European club sides were taking grave risks in helping train their Eastern European players to such a high standard only to have to face them when they turned up on national teams hungry to defeat the Westerners.


"This is the risk of the new Europe: the best clubs of great soccer nations prepare footballers from small soccer countries who will soon beat their own countries."