Ro-mania Sets Munich Alight


Romania 3:0 Ukraine, Group E, Munich

Denis Dragus scored Romania's third.
Denis Dragus scored Romania's third

Romania and Ukraine crossed swords in the early kick-off in sun-kissed Munich. I am never a fan of the early games; maybe it is the heat or the sun in the players' eyes. I am sure Ukraine would have preferred a late kick-off too after this baptism of fire, but no-one in Romania is complaining after a memorable win.

Ukraine, mindful of greater conflicts than the European Championship, all took the field wearing the national flag, the first time I have seen that. Ranked 22nd in the world, they were hopeful of beating 46th ranked Romania.

But the stadium looked like a field of sunflowers, proof that Romania like Albania has a huge expat population spread across Europe and have been starved of finals appearances in recent years. It was a twelfth man for Edward Iordanescu's yellow shirts.

In fact for a football nation that produced Gheorghe Hagi, the so-called Maradona of the Carpathians, and an exceptionally skilful side at USA '94, it is remarkable Romania have not been to the World Cup this century and have only won one Euros match in 16. 

Ukraine won 71% of the ball in the first half but entered the dressing rooms a goal down after a sloppy clearance allowed Romanian skipper Nicolae Stanciu, of Saudi Arabia's Damac, to fire a guided missile into the top left-hand corner. What a dream for all the fans. 

You could see how the goal lifted the team, making them run that split-second faster and taking more chances with passes and shots. Ukraine by contrast deflated after conceding.

Eight minutes after the break and another Romanian rocket from Empoli's Razvan Marin cranked up the already high volume, only for a third to arrive in the 57th from Gaziantep's Denis Draguz

So, unfancied Romania soar to the top of Group E and double their number of wins at the Euros finals. It was a truly historic day for a nation starved of football success. Steaua Bucharest won the European Cup in 1986 but the furthest the national team has gone is the quarter final stagae of USA '94 and Euro 2000.

But in a cheeky nod to two greats of yesteryear, Romania brought on the son of Hagi and a fellow named Puscas in the second half. Football fans know their history.

So well played the tricolorii and may their fans sing long into the Munich night. Unbridled celebrations at the end must have briefly united a country in joy the way only international football can. The bliss Romania felt at the end was unquantifiable.

Ukraine go again against Slovakia in four days' time in Dusseldorf.

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