Romania were far too good but Ukraine have already won at Euro 2024

Romania’s Razvan Marin (18) celebrates scoring their second goal (Reuters)
Romania’s Razvan Marin (18) celebrates scoring their second goal (Reuters)

Perhaps the occasion got the better of them but, given what Ukraine have been through in the past two years and beyond, maybe there was nothing left to give.

Even before their European Championship opener had got under way, Ukraine had already won, qualifying for a fourth successive Euros two years after Russia sent missiles in Kyiv’s direction.

Such an achievement cannot be overlooked. With their support hindered by the realities of war, after completing a qualification campaign entirely on the road, a vibrant Romania proved just a step too far, one goal in particular worthy of the grandest of stages.

The knockout stages were always a distant dream, having put so much into qualifying via the play-offs, but there was always hope. Romania, it seems, are going to take some stopping, led by their larger-than-life manager Edward Iordanescu.

He is the first manager to take charge of Romania at a major tournament since his father, Anghel Iordanescu, did so at Euro 2016. Indeed, Anghel has managed more games and won more matches at major international tournaments than any other Romania coach in history. And he has already got his team pumping.

Around the Bavarian capital, Romanians far outnumbered their Ukrainian counterparts; a law passed last month by the Ukrainian government banned males aged 25-60 from leaving as they look to mobilise more troops to fight Russia damaged support here irreparably.

There were still plenty of expats, groups of women and German natives of Ukrainian origin, but they were powerless to drown out the booming Romanian voices around Munich’s famous Marienplatz.

Marin’s 53rd-minute strike effectively ended the match as a contest (AP)
Marin’s 53rd-minute strike effectively ended the match as a contest (AP)

Those of lesser number still ensured their message got across. FA president Andriy Shevchenko unveiled a section of the destroyed Kharkiv Stadium, used as a base by the Netherlands at Euro 2021, in the central Wittelsbacherplatz, with various speakers bellowing out protest songs and impassioned speeches for additional motivation.

The players seemed equally pumped as they sang their national anthem, each draped into an individual flag, arm in arm, as one.

Ukraine looked lively early on, Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk flashing some half chances across the face of goal, with in-demand midfielder Georgiy Sudakov pulling the strings from deep. Things quickly, however, started to unravel.

A bolt out of the Romanian blue started a rot Ukraine could not stop. A poor clearance from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin gifted Romania possession in the 29th minute, before skipper Nicolae Stanciu unleashed a sensational curler that fizzed into the top corner to instigate pandemonium on the Allianz Arena terraces.

Romania’s Denis Dragus in action with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Brazhko (Reuters)
Romania’s Denis Dragus in action with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Brazhko (Reuters)

That goal-of-the-tournament contender ensured Stanciu became the first player to score at the Euros while playing for a Saudi Arabian club.

The interval gave Ukraine time to regroup and they initially looked more threatening early in the second half. Another goal from distance, however, effectively ended the match as a contest in the 53rd minute, this time Razvan Marin hammering home, under the outstretched arms of Lunin.

Romania proved they can score tap-ins too as Denis Dragus added a third before the hour mark. At this point, you really feared the worst for Ukraine.

They did, however, rally and went close to snatching one back on several occasions. Roman Yaremchuk headed against the crossbar late on but it wasn’t meant to be.

The scenes at the final whistle were joyous and what these tournaments are all about, Romania captain Stanciu grabbing a megaphone and working the crowd, all bouncing to the same beat, Iordanescu involved, too.

Those in Ukrainian blue cut a different figure. They will return another day, with victory over Slovakia next up a must. Overcoming the odds, however, is hardly against their nature.