Romania - The Real Euro 2024 Dark Horses?

Published on 21 June 2024 at 20:00

When some think of a dark horse all they picture is a Lloyds TSB advert. But what does the term mean in sporting circles? Well if you ask the dictionary you'd be told the story of a relative unknown who thrusts themselves into public knowledge through some manner of unexpected success.


In times gone by we've seen the likes of Denmark and Croatia take up that mantle but now, in 2024, is it the time of Romania?

the glory years


Gheorghe Hagi fighting for the ball vs Wales in November 1993

Gheorghe Hagi fighting for the ball vs Wales in November 1993


In the 90s football was booming in Romania. Flying under the banner of legendary figure Gheorghe Hagi, the Tricolorii found themselves scaling heights on the international stage that they had never before reached, appearing in three successive World Cups as well as two editions of the Euros before the turn of the century. 


And whilst they shone in more than one of those tournaments (reaching the knockouts of both World Cup 90' and 98' as well as a quarter-final exit to eventual runners-up Italy in Euro 2000) it was perhaps World Cup 1994 that was to be their, and indeed Hagi's, crowning moment. 


Scoring three and assisting a further four, Gica spent the summer ripping apart the defences of Colombia, Switzerland, Argentina, and Sweden before a cruel penalty exit to the latter curtailed Romania's magical run. On the back of this Hagi earned himself a move to Barcelona and a fourth place finish in that year's Ballon D'or rankings.


Why am I recounting this?


Well, 30 years on, an exciting new chapter in Romania's footballing memoir may be about to be penned.

turmoil or the new normal?


30 years is a long time in football (unless your name is Zlatan Ibrahimovic), in fact in that time you can grow a whole Harry Kane; but for a large majority of this current Romania crop, the memories of summer 1994 punctuated their childhood through bed time stories and kick-about emulations.


Recent years haven't been so kind to them though, failing to reach a World Cup since their Round of 16 defeat to Croatia in 98' and only appearing in three editions of the Euros since the year 2000 (a 50% qualification rate that sinks well below that of the noteworthy 90s).


Having failed to reach the knockout stages in both 2008 and 2016, you could be forgiven for thinking that Romania stand little chance of making it past the first three matches yet again.


But this time it could all be different for the Tricolorri.

The return of the kings?


For the first time in 24 years, the Hagi family has returned to international tournaments, with Gheorghe's son Ianis occupying one of the 26 spots in coach Edward Iordǎnescu's squad. Add that talismanic surname to a squad boasting the likes of Spurs centre-half Radu Drǎgușin and a right back in Andre Ratiu who is as blue-haired as he is brilliant and you start to get a true dark horse contender.


And their tournament opener against Ukraine only served to ratify this feeling, with an iconic three-nil victory courtesy of some quite brilliant goals. Even if they were slightly helped by Ukrainian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, Iordǎnescu's men upset the apple cart to step forward from the shadows and into the spotlight.


Now with Belgium up next (who themselves fell to a disappointing defeat to Slovakia, with Romelu Lukaku finding the back of the net twice before being denied by VAR), the Romanians have the chance to not only take themselves to the knockout stages of a major international competition for the first time in 24 years, but also to potentially knock out the third best side in the world according to the FIFA World Rankings.


Failing that, they'd get another crack against Slovakia on Wednesday 26th June to get that elusive point which would guarantee them passage to the last 16 and a potential matchup with Ronald Koeman's Netherlands (assuming both sides finish second in their respective groups).


Whether they make it through or not, the Tricolorii have already provided one of the games of the tournament and a memory that may well inspire the next generation of Romanian footballers.


If not this time, maybe 2054 will be their year.

Want to read more about Euro 2024? Check out our review of the action so far here



Ben Watts

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