////

Euro 2024: The East in Germany Part III

Part 3

The final 6 representatives, with 4 of them qualifying for the last 16…

Crowds of supporters ready for match day at Euro 2024 (Photo credit: Kevin Ciobanu)

Group E: Romania · Slovakia · Ukraine

It has been 30 years since Romania’s Golden Generation landed in the USA at the 1994 World Cup and fulfilled its own American Dream and reached the quarter-finals. A promising side with many players from its U21 team who reached the semi-finals of the 2019 U21 Euro, Romania managed to win their qualification group without incurring a single loss.

A sea of yellow in Munich helped Romania earn a stunning win over neighbouring Ukraine for its second-ever Euro win after Ukraine failed to capitalise on their chances and learn from the mistakes made by the keeper Andriy Lunin.

Competing at its third consecutive Euro, Slovakia upset Belgium in a dramatic encounter where they scored in the 7th minute, followed by two disallowed goals scored by Romelu Lukaku had two disallowed goals.

An 80th-minute comeback earned Ukraine three points against Slovakia after making a few tactical changes after their previous game. Their fighting spirit saw them win for the first time, coming from behind ever since 2012 when they had beaten Sweden 2-1 in Kyiv.

Their Euro 2024 campaign was indeed still alive going into the final matchday. They cruelly missed out on automatic qualification in a campaign which saw them play their four home fixtures in four different countries. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022, Ukraine has not been able to play at home with its home fans. Euro 2024 was Ukraine’s first tournament appearance since the conflict escalated, with the families of its players also affected. Chelsea forward, Mykhailo Mudryk, said that his family were facing Russian missiles “day and night” in his home city of Krasnograd. Emotional scenes followed at the stadium in Düsseldorf after their victory and across Germany, where a million Ukrainians now call home, as well as back home in Ukraine.

A much-needed, dominant performance by Belgium earned them a 2-0 victory against Romania to put all four teams on three points going into the final matchday. Although Romania wasted its rare chances, optimism remained high going into the deciding match against Slovakia.

Scoring thirteen minutes after going 1-0 down to Slovakia, Răzvan Marin’s penalty equalised the score 1-1 which was enough to see both Romania and Slovakia progress into the last 16, with Romania winning the group and Slovakia one of the best third-placed teams.

A 0-0 draw for Ukraine with Belgium saw all four teams in the group finishing on four points, which is something that has never been seen before. However, its inferior goal difference forced them to rely on Slovakia’s matches or even score themselves. Despite their late efforts, they failed to score past Belgium.   

Romania v Slovakia (Photo credit: Kevin Ciobanu)

Group F: Turkey  · Georgia · Czechia

Debuting at its first tournament, Georgia picked up a few positive results in a difficult group that included Spain, Scotland and Norway, but it was their Nations League ranking and the playoff route which booked their ticket to Germany following years of UEFA investment into Georgian football as well as co-hosting the 2023 U21 Euro with Romania.

Following an underwhelming last Euro, future co-hosts in 2032, alongside Italy, Turkey have a rejuvenated squad under Vincenzo Montella at their sixth Euro (third consecutive appearance).

As the Euro 96 runners-up, Euro 2024 was Czechia’s eighth consecutive appearance since its peaceful split from Czechoslovakia.

Scoring on his Euro debut in this transcontinental derby, 19-year-old Arda Güller of Real Madrid broke Georgian hearts in a thrilling match in Dortmund after Georgia equalised in the 32nd minute, seven minutes after Turkey went ahead – a third Turkey goal in the 97th minute spoiled the party even further at Georgia’s tournament debut. Turning the traditional yellow wall of Dortmund into Turkey’s red was the start of the prominent support they received this summer, being victorious on their manager’s 50th birthday.

Having gained several new fans after its brave and positive performance, Georgia went into their next game optimistic, earning their first-ever tournament point despite losing its short lead in the 59th minute. They were heavily dominated by Czechia, with 61.8% and 12 shots on target from 27 compared to Georgia’s 1 from 5, which was their only goal. Their twelve chances on goal are the most by a team that failed to win a match at the Euros since records began in 1980. This followed a painful defeat in the 92nd minute after Francisco Conceição scored less than two minutes after coming on. Defensively strong and frustrating Portugal, they were right to feel disappointed for what would have been an important point.

A second game for Turkey at the iconic BVB Stadion Dortmund did not see a repeat of the jubilant scenes from four days earlier. A shocking own goal doubled Portugal’s lead when Samet Akaydin failed to look up before passing it to his goalkeeper Altay Bayındır and then it was unpreventable to stop the ball rolling into their own net. This dampened the cheerful support after thousands marched with flags from the city centre towards the stadium.

Rounding off the group stages of Euro 2024 saw Turkey send Czechia home after a 94th-minute winner from Cenk Tosun to make it 2-1 in a fiery meeting at the Volksparkstadion with 18 yellow cards and two Czech players sent off. Czechia pushed for victory in the tense closing stages, knowing they had to win, and did well with ten men since the 20th minute. Turkey struggled to break down the Czechs until scoring in the 51st minute, then forcing the game to be played wide open with both countries desperate for the winner.         

One final underdog surprise saw Georgia continue their historic summer of football, extending its stay in Germany by beating the 2016 winners Portugal, with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scoring in the 2nd minute and Georges Mikautadze doubling the lead in the 57th minute to also make himself the tournament top scorer – securing third with four points.

The remaining representatives from Europe’s east have the following round of 16 games: Portugal-Slovenia on Monday 1 July, 8pm

Romania-Netherlands and Austria-Turkey on Tuesday 2 July, at 5pm then 8pm

Regardless of what happens now, it is fair to say that these national teams from this region of Europe have created incredible memories to share with their people. Maybe Euro 2024 will see a few more surprises in Berlin on the 14th of July…

Berlin Olympiastadion (Photo credit: Kevin Ciobanu)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Columnists