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EURO 2024 DDAY – MYEN
Gareth Bale
OFFICIAL AMBASADOR
FULHAM-WIDE-EN
PROMO-WIDE-EN
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Euro 2024: Romania Pride Ensures Expectations Surpassed

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It was the summer of 1994 and even now in Euro 2024, 30 years on, the performances and personality of one nation still leaves a mark on this SBOTOP observer.

In fact, three decades ago, the unlikely group of boys from South-eastern Europe could justifiably lay claim (briefly) to be among the world’s best teams.

For Romania, on occasions, captured hearts with their eye for the spectacular, never more so than in the United States in 1994.

There were laughs at home when their talisman, Gheorghe Hagi, suggested they could actually win the World Cup.

Then the national team managed convincing wins over Colombia, USA, and the mighty Argentina and the laughing stopped and turned to admiration.

They went onto reach the quarter-finals where they were defeated by Sweden in a dramatic penalty shootout when, in truth, it was a contest they should have won.

Eventual winners Brazil would have been next in the semi-finals and what a contest that would have been.

With Hagi starring in midfield, Romania went on to beat England in the group stages of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, reaching the knockout stages in both tournaments.

Now don’t get me wrong.

On their return to the football mainstage this summer, the Tricolorii could hardly be compared technically to the class of 94, but topping their group at Euro 2024 after missing out on qualification for the past three major tournaments was an achievement to be proud of.

Widely regarded as the best player the country has ever produced, Hagi had a prophetic rant in front of the media in 1998, unhappy with the criticism the national team was receiving at home.

“We deserve statues for what we did over the past 10 years,” he railed. “You’ll see that in two or three years, Romanian football will die. Zero!”

He was, of course, right and hopefully that makes the majority of Romania fans today realise how well they did this summer in Germany.

“Thank you to our boys, to our supporters, to Romanians all over the world,” the coach, Edward Iordanescu, said after the 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands in the last 16.

Without a doubt, Romania gave it a real go at Euro 2024
Romania boss Edward Iordanescu gestures during their Round of 16 match against the Netherlands in Euro 2024

“In one month in the summer you can’t compensate for 10 years. We have to get inspiration out of this and work hard.”

Romania have come a long way under Iordanescu and started well against the Netherlands. But once they were behind, they could not get back on level terms and the game ran away from them.

They do, though, have that scintillating opening 3-0 win against Ukraine to look back on and, like Iordanescu said, this tournament will have given the next generation hope.

At Euro 2016, when they last featured in a big competition before this one in Germany, they were led by Anghel Iordanescu, none other than the father of their current manager.

But it was by no means a smooth passing of the sceptre between the two, with havoc and depression dominating the Romanian football landscape over the past eight years.

Romania underperformed at Euro 2016 and were eventually knocked out in the group stage after losing a qualification decider to Albania.

It took eight years and four discharged managers to restore hope as they had a really miserable time of it in trying to qualify major tournaments.

Romania is a football-mad country, but the lack of success at both club and national team levels has seen belief among fans dip to unprecedented lows.

Events in recent weeks have boosted morale and made Romanians from all corners of the world feel that they were part of something special.

Few expected them to top their group, helped in no small part by that comprehensive win over the Ukraine, their first victory at a European Championship in 24 years.

Their only previous win at the Euros came in 2000 where a late Ionel Ganea penalty helped them beat England 3-2 in the group stage.

It was a performance of Euro 2024 highlights and genuine quality which suggested the modern breed can create their own heroes as they took the lead thanks to a superb Nicolae Stanciu goal, from there they dominated to record a famous victory.

All in all, they have probably done better than anyone outside Romania expected. A 2-0 loss to Belgium wasn’t entirely unexpected, but with 14 shots and five on target, Romania gave it a real go and were still in the game until Kevin De Bruyne scored a 79th minute cracker.

The players and fans clearly enjoyed their time in Germany.

To show their appreciation, Iordanescu and his side were seen holding a round of applause for hotel staff at the Hotel Melchior Park in Wurzburg with Iordanescu shaking all the employees’ hands.

Pictures on social media also showed Romania left their dressing room in an impeccable state, while they left behind a letter for the German organisers.

The letter read: “EURO 2024 was for each of us one of the most important football experiences lived so far and we are glad that the stage on which it took place was the German one.”

A classy gesture from a classy outfit.


 

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