Romania, Excellence in Normality: How the Country’s Footballing DNA Changed to Secure EURO 2024 Qualification

Emanuel Rosu explores the Romanian team's potential at EURO 2024, as they enter the tournament with high hopes of progressing beyond the group stages. What might fans expect from them? Join The Game Magazin as Emanuel takes a closer look.

Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / NurPhoto / Alex Nicodim | Romanian fans wave their flag during the UEFA EURO 2024 European Qualifiers match between Romania and Switzerland in Bucharest, Romania, on November 21, 2023.

By Emanuel Rosu

Romania returns to the football mainstream after eight years of havoc. The Tricolours missed out on qualification to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, as well as EURO 2020, and were bottom of their Nations League group in 2022. But they bounced back unexpectedly during the European qualifiers, reaching the continental showdown in Germany as an undefeated group leader. The Romanians are optimistic about their chances to reach the knock-out stages at EURO 2024, but what should neutrals expect from this team? We take a closer look to find out what this team is made of.

An Inspiring Past

On May 25, a record-breaking attendance of 54,967 people came to watch a special match at the National Arena in Bucharest. Romania’s “Golden Generation,” led by the country’s greats from the ‘90s, Gheorghe Hagi, Miodrag Belodedici, Gheorghe Popescu, and Dan Petrescu played an exhibition match against a glamorous World Stars team. Two “Ballon d’Or” winners, Rivaldo and Hristo Stoichkov, showed the public they could still produce magic despite being in their 50s, while a certain Jose Mourinho served as the coach of this international side. Other greats including Dida, Christian Panucci, Fernando Couto, Maicon, Christian Karembeu, Jari Litmanen, Goran Pandev and Javier Saviola were also part of the traveling dream team. A stadium filled with emotions and gratitude waved its goodbyes to Romania’s footballing idols, who also needed serious efforts to hold back their tears as chants honoring them came from everywhere around.

Jose Mourinho and Giovani Becali at the friendly football match between Romanias Golden Generation and the Legends of the World
IMAGO / sport pictures-Razvan Pasarica | Jose Mourinho and Giovani Becali at the friendly match between Romania’s Golden Generation and the Legends of the World, at National Arena in Bucharest, on Saturday, May 25, 2024.


Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / sport pictures-Razvan Pasarica | Hristo Stoichkov and Gheorghe Popescu grace the pitch in the friendly match between Romania’s Golden Generation and the Legends of the World, at National Arena in Bucharest, on Saturday, May 25, 2024.


Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / sport pictures-Razvan Pasarica | Gheorghe Hagi, alongside Basarab Panduru, Ovidiu Ioan Sabau, Constantin Galca, and Viorel Moldovan, bid farewell to the crowd after the friendly football match between Romania’s Golden Generation and the Legends of the World, at National Arena in Bucharest, on Saturday, May 25, 2024.

Exactly 30 years after a magical summer of football at the World Cup in the USA, Romania’s “Class of ’94” left the “scene” with a farewell game. In 1994, Romania stunned the football planet with their state-of-the-art counters and Hagi’s performance, which was close to earning him the tournament’s MVP prize. Hagi’s moves, his magnificent goals and his dribbles are still part of Romanian football’s cult moments. The Romanians beat South American giants Colombia and Argentina, as well as the hosts USA, to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup, which they left in dramatic style. A penalty shootout against Sweden cut all hopes of a much-desired face-off with Romario and Bebeto’s Brazil.

Romania World Cup team 1994
IMAGO / Allstar | Romania’s World Cup team in 1994. July 11, 1994.

“We had a fantastic World Cup. We’re proud of what we did in the United States. But I have no regrets regarding our exit,” Gheorghe Hagi, widely regarded as Romania’s greatest-ever player, said while speaking to us briefly after the Golden Generation’s “last act” in May. “Of course, a semi-final would have been fabulous, but we set our mark. We showed it was possible to beat the greats. Now it’s up to the new generation to do more than what we did”, Hagi added, smiling, while removing the sweat that was pouring down his forehead. His touches of magic made people come out of their seats to cheer then and now. Romania’s iconic number 10 did not disappoint his faithful, despite being 59.

Florin Raducioiu goal world cup 1994
IMAGO / TT / Jack Mikrut | Romania’s Florin Raducioiu takes a shot during the group stage match against Colombia in the World Cup 1994. USA, on June 18, 1994.

What Now?

In the team Romania is taking to Germany for EURO 2024, no player is anywhere near Hagi’s calibre or skill. But the name Hagi won’t be missing. Gheorghe’s son, Ianis, is part of the squad. The attacking midfielder is one of the important hopes Romania has to surprise Ukraine, Belgium and Slovakia, the opponents in Group E.

And Hagi is not the only name from the “golden” past Romania will bring to their training camp in Wurzburg. Manager Edward Iordănescu is also continuing a glorious legacy. His dad Anghel was the manager under whom Romania got their best results in the 90’s, including the 1994 World Cup campaign. Iordănescu Senior was rewarded with the “Romanian Coach of the 20th Century” award for contributing to the nation’s football pedigree. Iordănescu Senior, now 74, also led Romania to their last major tournament, EURO 2016. Eight years after a dismal Euro campaign in France, which concluded with an embarrassing defeat to Albania and a group-stage exit, 45-year-old Edward Iordănescu will be hoping to turn the fortunes around. He needs to battle some grim EURO stats.

Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / NurPhoto / Alex Nicodim | Edward Iordanescu during the UEFA EURO 2024 Qualifying Round between Romania and Andorra in Bucharest, Romania, on October 15, 2023.

The 2024 European Championship will be Romania’s sixth final tournament at a continental level. From the 16 games they played up to now, they only won once, beating England 3-2 in a qualification decider at EURO 2000. The Netherlands and Belgium edition was the only one that saw Romania get past the group stage. Many better versions of the Romanian national team failed to produce the results they longed for. In 2000, Hagi said Romania must not accept any other objective than aiming to bring home the EURO trophy. Sadly, the 2-0 quarter-final defeat to Italy not only marked a disappointing exit from the final tournament but saw Hagi get sent off. The 60 minutes he played against Italy that day were his last for the Romanian national team.

There’s no hope for flamboyant football in today’s team. Edward Iordănescu has built a strong unit with clear principles. The cohesion in the locker room is key to his success. Any detail or intruder affecting the group’s karma is immediately taken out.

Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / NurPhoto / Alex Nicodim | Nicolae Stanciu, Radu Dragusin, Marius Marin, Denis Alibec, Nicolae Stanciu, Andrei Ratiu, Vasile Mogos, Darius Olaru, George Puscas, Ianis Hagi, and Olimpiu Morutan jubilate after a victorious moment of Romania in the UEFA EURO 2024 European Qualifiers match against Switzerland. Arena Nationala in Bucharest, Romania, on November 21, 2023.

Today’s Romania team is resilient and knows its strengths and weaknesses to perfection. The Tricolours accept suffering during matches but they can never be ruled out during the length of the game. For large parts of their clashes in the preliminary round, they looked overwhelmed even against Israel and Kosovo, not to mention the away match in Switzerland. Still, Romania finished the qualifying group undefeated and left everyone behind in the group standings. In front of Switzerland, in Luzern, Romania probably played their worst 85 minutes in 20 years. The Swiss were 2-0 up and had missed chance after chance, exposing the opponents’ limits. Romania only needed two counters to take a point back home. Five months later, being already qualified mathematically and ready to celebrate in front of a packed National Arena, Romania beat Switzerland 2-0 after an impressive outing. No one ever mentioned the 85-minute nightmare from the first leg anymore.

Failed Warm-up for the EURO

Romania is a football-mad country. Tens of thousands will support the national team in Germany and millions will put everything on hold on the days of the group-stage matches. But what can they expect? One thing’s for sure: the players will give their all. But is this group of players good enough to even reach the knock-out stages? The four friendlies Romania played ahead of EURO 2024 showed a troubling reality, to say the least. As if the last two qualifiers hadn’t existed, the away win over Israel (2-1) and the home triumph in front of Switzerland (1-0), Romania returned to mediocrity. They registered three draws and one defeat. The loss was recorded to a way superior Colombian side (2-3) in Madrid, last March. Romania’s goals came in the second half after Colombia changed the team massively and after the South Americans controlled hostilities with great authority.

Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / Xinhua / Cristian Cristel | Adrian Rus (L) of Romania in action during the International Friendly football match against Bulgaria at Steaua Stadium in Bucharest, Romania, on June 4, 2024.

What’s worrying is that Romania couldn’t win against Northern Ireland (1-1), Bulgaria (0-0) and Liechtenstein (0-0). The last two outings were played just days before the Romanian team flew to Germany. The draw to Liechtenstein, attended by more than 25,000 people who expected a performance, was not the ideal way to wave “goodbye” in front of the Romanian public.

“I ask everyone to blame me, and not the boys. I even invite people to do it. I apologize for the result,” Iordănescu insisted before a few surprising words came out of his mouth: “I know very few will agree, but I need to take the positives. There were things that we did well against Liechtenstein and I will not take that away from my team.”

Iordănescu was expected to even make some surprise last-minute calls to the national team following the failed matches against Bulgaria and Liechtenstein, but the media’s predictions had no impact. He dropped the two youngsters everyone expected him to from the moment he announced the provisional squad. Despite the medical problems, he opted to keep everyone he initially called on the team. The only high-profile omission was Alexandru Mitriță, nicknamed “Messi” in the Romanian league thanks to his individual quality and, of course, his height. The Universitatea Craiova attacker’s absence was not a surprise, as there has been a rupture between him and the national team during the Nations League campaign in 2022.

The Romanians tend to forget easily, so they’re ready to move past the recent disappointments if the team gives them hope. The Romanian presence at the EUROs will be full of color. If not on the pitch, then surely in the stands, at least. The fans are up for the challenge of being at this final tournament after a long wait. They’ll do their best to lift the team.
From heartbeat to heartbeat, this group of players has grown to make them happy and proud on the road to Germany. A documentary recently released by the Romanian FA revealed, thanks to unprecedented access, what life inside the national team is really like. The lesson learned: A big heart won Romania the big matches. Millions of supporters are now certain normal players can do extraordinary things.

Carlos Valderrama of Colombia and Ioan Lupescu of Romania during a World Cup match in 1994.
IMAGO / WEREK | Carlos Valderrama of Colombia and Ioan Lupescu of Romania during a World Cup match in 1994.


 Gheorghe Hagi in World Cup 1994 against Colombia
IMAGO / WEREK | Gheorghe Hagi of Romania in action during a World Cup match against Colombia in 1994.


Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / sport pictures-Razvan Pasarica | Romanian footballers Horațiu Moldovan, Ianis Hagi, Olimpiu Moruțan, Florin Niță, Radu Dragușin, Ionuț Radu, Denis Alibec, Andrei Burcă, Nicolae Stanciu, and Vasile Mogoș rejoice after securing qualification in the European Championship 2024. November 21, 2023, in Bucharest.


Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / sport pictures-Razvan Pasarica | Miodrag Belodedici after the friendly football match between Romania’s Golden Generation and World Legends, held at the National Arena in Bucharest on Saturday, May 25, 2024.


Colombia and Romania World cup 1994
IMAGO / TT / Jack Mikrut | A view of the Rose Bowl sports stadium during the World Cup group stage match between Colombia and Romania on June 18, 1994, in Pasadena, USA.


Romania EURO 2024
IMAGO / NurPhoto / Alex Nicodim | Celebration after Romania qualifies for UEFA EURO 2024 at Arena Nationala in Bucharest, Romania, on November 21, 2023. Bucharest Romania.

The credit of cover photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto / Alex Nicodim

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