Euro 2024 team guides part 18: Romania

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.

Prospects

Romania return to a major finals after missing out on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as well as Euro 2020. The last time they qualified for the Euros, in 2016, it ended so badly they have tried to erase the experience from their memory.

Romania were brave in the 2-1 defeat by France and the 1-1 draw with Switzerland but then lost the decisive group game against Albania and succumbed to mediocrity for the next eight years. The result against Albania summed up the reality Romanian football has been living in for the past decade: not close enough to the big teams, not mature enough, not good enough.

That was the case until the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign started at least. This was a “normal” team with no exceptional individuals but, driven by resilience and a great team spirit, they eradicate the “not enough” tag. They won their group and ended the campaign undefeated, beating Switzerland, Israel and Kosovo on their path to Germany.

One of the country’s most iconic players, Gheorghe Hagi, the hero of Romania’s 1994 World Cup run, likes to say that the Tricolorii only went out in the quarter-finals 30 years ago “just to set a standard and inspire future generations to beat that performance”. He is backing the current crop to impress in Germany, which is no wonder as his son, Ianis – who has spent the last season on loan at Alavés from Rangers – is part of the squad. “I have one legitimate son in this team but other children as well”, Hagi likes to quip, a reference to the players (more than a third of the squad) who have been part of the academy he set up outside his hometown of Constanta.

Should you expect something special from this side? If you define “special” as hard work, a solid mentality and a fantastic ability to suffer, then yes, Romania will enchant you. But if you’re not into football masochism, it’s probably better to look elsewhere. This team is maximising limited resources and making their fans proud. They will put up a fight against anyone, that much you can expect.

The coach

Edward Iordanescu was in charge when Romania were relegated to League C in the Nations League, finishing bottom in a group with Finland, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hardly that inspiring. But it was also Iordanescu who found a way, despite a limited squad, to build a solid base for the Euro 2024 qualifiers. He deserves huge credit for rebuilding character, team spirit and belief among the group. Loyal to his players, he has not made many changes in his two years in charge – and that trust has been repaid. The 45-year-old is pragmatic, well organised but also adaptable, which means he may well revert to a three-man defence if the opponents’ attack seems too hot to handle.

The icon

When there is a Hagi in your team, you imagine a player with No 10 on his back. But Romania’s No 10 at the Euros will be Nicolae Stanciu. The gifted midfielder is capable of dictating play, making long passes, shooting from long range or dribbling past opponents. Once a target for Chelsea’s academy, Stanciu never reached those heights in his club career because of a lack of consistency. He was signed by Anderlecht in 2016, then played for Czech rivals, Sparta and Slavia Prague, before joining Wuhan in China and now Damac in Saudi Arabia. When on form the 31-year-old is capable of looking like a top-class player even against the best opposition.

Nicolae Stanciu (right) congratulates Denis Alibec after he scored in Romania’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Israel. Photograph: Vasile Mihai-Antonio/Getty Images

One to watch

Denis Dragus did not make it at Standard Liège and nor did he impress while on loan at Genoa. But in the past season, on loan at Gaziantep in Turkey, he showed what he can do when trusted by club and manager. Dragus is a skilful player who is equally good coming in from the left or playing as a striker. The 24-year-old is not dissimilar to Jack Grealish. He scored 14 league goals for Gaziantep this season and assisted another two, helping his side avoid relegation from the Super Lig. Trabzonspor have already agreed to sign him permanently in the summer for £2m from Standard. One of the many products in the team from Hagi’s academy.

The maverick

Iordanescu likes disciplined players who offer stability and respect his rules but the striker Denis Alibec might just fill the maverick position. He came through at Internazionale, trained under José Mourinho and Rafael Benítez and played alongside Mario Balotelli. Expectations were huge, but Alibec never reached the highest level. He has built a respectable career in Romania but has been criticised by those who believe he has never grown up. The 33-year-old still loves video games and chocolate and has got into trouble for clearly showing his unhappiness towards the bench or teammates during games.

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The spine

The goalkeeper, Horatiu Moldovan, has been brilliant throughout the qualifying campaign and his performances for the national team earned him a move to Atlético Madrid in January. There, of course, he has yet to play because of Jan Oblak but Iordanescu still sees him as his No 1. The importance of Tottenham’s Radu Dragusin has grown exponentially over the past year as his club career also taken a big step forward. He went from playing in the Italian second division to the Premier League in the space of six months. In midfield Stanciu is the key man and a lot will depend on his form and fitness. Up front, it is Parma’s Dennis Man who is expected to score the goals. He has had a great season in Serie B, contributing to his side’s promotion back to Serie A, and Romanians expect him to deliver for the national team as well.

Probable starting XI

Celebrity fan

King Charles III. The king visited Romania for the first time in 1998 and fell in love with the country and its people. He has returned almost every year since, including in 2023, before his cancer diagnosis. His contribution to charities and his constant support have earned him respect. He owns various properties in rural Romania, where he prefers to go during his visits. His contribution to the restoration of the Viscri village in Transylvania has transformed the place into a popular travel destination. King Charles was supposed to meet “Romanian King” Gheorghe Hagi during his visit to Bucharest last year, but “the Maradona of the Carpathians” could not make it because of a commitment to an exhibition match he had agreed to play in.

Culinary delight

Nothing goes better with football than mici, the grilled minced meat roll popular in Bucharest and beyond. Of course, they are not particularly healthy so not great for players, and they do make you thirsty, which might make you reach for a beer. You can find mici in almost any restaurant in Romania and if the team go on to surprise everyone and win the Euros the players will surely celebrate publicly with a barbecue full of them.

Romania team guide written by Emanuel Rosu for PlaySport

The Guardian

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