Belgian ‘calm’ faces a stormy examination from Romania

HAMBURG – Belgium have sought to project an image of calm after losing their opening game at Euro 2024, but must be worried about yet another early tournament elimination as they prepare to face Romania in Cologne on June 22.

A surprise 1-0 defeat by Slovakia has the Red Devils on the back foot in Group E and they now face a buoyant Romania, who stunned Ukraine 3-0 in their opener.

“I can’t tell the team much about what needed to be better,” said coach Domenico Tedesco after their loss, where missed opportunities clearly played a big part.

In a separate interview with The Guardian earlier in the week, the 38-year-old insisted that his players have what it takes to advance far in the tournament.

“We have brought in young players with big potential, like Jeremy Doku, Arthur Theate and Zeno Debast, to name just a few. The team is hungry, with big potential.

“We are talented – very talented – but in some positions really young, so we have to find a balance. Experience is sometimes important. Whoever plays, we will be motivated to do everything we can for Belgium.”

Veteran defender Jan Vertonghen, 37, is one of those with experience, alongside the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. He also believes that Belgium certainly have the players to get a result against Romania.

“I would be worried if we didn’t have the quality, so I’m confident we will score on Saturday,” he said.

Despite that confidence, Belgium will be fretting over the potential for another early exit after crashing out at the first hurdle at the World Cup in Qatar less than two years ago.

Given the array of quality at their disposal, and after going through the qualifiers unbeaten, they would be expected to advance. But top scorer Lukaku needs to find his range while captain de Bruyne must increase the tempo in the midfield if they are to dominate Romania.

Victory over Ukraine was only the second time that the Romanians have won a match at a European Championship and came 24 years after their first – a 3-2 win over England at Euro 2000.

Captain and man-of-the-match Nicolae Stanciu set them on their way to a memorable triumph with a cracking long-range strike and he will have added motivation to try to repeat that against Belgium.

The midfielder was the most expensive transfer in Belgian club football when he moved to Anderlecht in 2016 but was later dubbed a €10 million (S$14.5 million) flop and sold after 18 months.

Romania, who have other potential match winners such as Denis Dragus and Valentin Mihaila, also went through the qualifying campaign unbeaten and finished top of their group ahead of Switzerland and have lost only once in their past 16 games.

“This is the generation of the soul – this team has put the biggest effort into everything,” Romania coach Edward Iordanescu said after they beat Ukraine.

He will surely be even more gushing if Belgium are added to their list of conquests.

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