Romania's resurgence: From scandal to triumph at Euro 2024

A tournament team with some highly talented players, a nation torn by the effects of war were expected to reach the next round of the competition from the group.
Ukraine football team players celebrating after scoring a goal
Ukraine football team players celebrating after scoring a goal

One of the geopolitical quirks of Group E is the presence of multiple countries which once called the Soviet Bloc home. Romania, Slovakia (as part of Czechoslovakia) and Ukraine (as part of USSR). At this event, as many as 11 nations once belonged to that bloc, a record number of nations in the championship has expanded to 24 in 2016.

Ukraine football team players celebrating after scoring a goal
Euro 2024: Romania sink error-prone Ukraine 3-0 to end long drought

At a sun-kissed Allianz Arena in Munich, Ukraine were expected to do the majority of the running. A tournament team with some highly talented players, a nation torn by the effects of war were expected to reach the next round of the competition from the Group.

The 21-year-old Georgiy Sudakov is expected to have a few suitors this Summer. Andriy Lunin starred for Real Madrid as he helped them to a double. Artem Dovbyk won the Golden Boot for Girona in La Liga. Add in the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal), Mykhailo Mudryk (Chelsea) and Illia Zabarnyi (young but highly-rated Bournemouth centre-back), those expectations weren't out of place.

Yet, Romania, who had only three points and as many goals over two Euros and six matches since 2004, stuck to their gameplan, executed it and doubled their points tally and goals in a remarkable display of gumption and tightrope skill. Ukraine had most of the possession (71%), passed the ball more effectively (516 to Romania's 171) and had the more bankable players but they were no match. By the time the final whistle cut through the Stadium, the agony and the ecstacy of the two groups of players couldn't have been starker.

While Ukraine, ranked 22nd, 24 rungs above Monday's opponents, will wonder what hit them, this is undoubtedly one of Romania's greatest days at a major event since they had advanced to the quarterfinals of Euro 2000 at England's expense thanks to a late penalty against the same opposition.

While it's not really relevant to talk about the generational 1994 side (the side comprising Gheorghe Hagi, Florin Raducioiu, Dan Petrescu had reached the last eight of that World Cup), there are clear and visible links between that team and the one currently in Germany. For one, Edward Iordanescu is the coach of the current generation. Anghel, Edward's father, was in charge of that team. Just after the hour mark, Ianis, Gheorghe's son, came on as a substitute. Like in the 90s, there is a level of talent in Romania.

At the Under-21 Euros in 2019, they reached the last four. Multiple members of that squad are part of the contingent in Germany, including Dennis Man, Ianis, George Puscas, Adrian Rus and Darius Olaru. Against Ukraine, Man ran the show with his tireless running; he may have played only 62 minutes but had already had two assists to his name.

Even as Romania converted two long-range efforts, Edward was a sight to behold in the dugout; he was orchestrating proceedings and punched the air multiple timings as his defenders marshalled the ball out of play with aplomb. Some of this new found hope can be traced back to Edward's vision. He is hopeful of bringing back the champagne days for a country whose domestic football scene has directly been linked to crime and match-fixing for a major part of the first two decades of this century.

In 2016, for instance, the Federation handed out bans to multiple coaches and more than a dozen players of a second-division club because of allegations of match-fixing. Eight years before that, the country's anti-corruption prosecuting office (DNA) began an investigation. "DNA," Reuters wrote at the time, "started criminal investigations on charges of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering against prominent officials of Dinamo and Rapid Bucharest, Otelul Gulati and Gloria Bistrita, agents Gheorghe Popescu, Victor and Ioan Becali and lawyer Sica Puscoci."

Reuters added: "It is the first time in the post-communist era that authorities have investigated alleged corruption in the transfer abroad of Romanian players, despite widespread media reports of wrongdoing in the past 18 years." DNA had also opened other investigations about the sport at other times. One of Romania's richest persons, Gigi Becali, is well known to sports fans because of his multiple run-ins with the law. Among a plethora of issues, Becali was also linked to alleged match-fixing. Other people within the footballing fraternity have also been charged with attempted bribery.

But things may be taking a turn for the better. After more than 15 years of apathy, fans are seemingly coming back to stadia. The guardian noted that last season, more fans attended top-flight matches than at any point since 1994'.

In a pre-tournament interview with UEFA, Edward spoke on similar lines. "This excellent campaign was received with great enthusiasm by the Romanian people," the coach said. "We felt a lot of joy and warmth. We felt that Romanians were supporting the national team once again."

If they can get one more win in this group, they will assure themselves of a first knockout appearance of a major event since the 2000 Euros. That, now, will be the next target.

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