KOLKATA: This is a father-son story. The last time Romania qualified from the group stages of the European championship, Gheorghe Hagi had come out retirement to help. On Wednesday, his son did. To the list that has Marcus Thuram, Federico Chiesa and Francisco Conceciao, sons of illustrious footballer fathers in Euro 2024, add Ianis Hagi.

Romania’s Ianis Hagi and teammates celebrate with their fans after the match. (REUTERS)

The 25-year-old has a left foot that inevitably draws comparisons with his father who was known as Maradona of the Carpathians. A peripatetic club career in search of game time has led to him not being a regular starter in the national team and Hagi Senior has made his displeasure clear about that. Can’t listen to every parent, Romania coach Edward Iordanescu had said.

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But there he was in the first 11 in Frankfurt, a first starting berth in Euro 2024 given by Iordanescu in place of Dennis Man. And there lay another succession story: Edward’s father Anghel is one of Romania’s best known coaches.

Hagi could have scored in the 11th minute but shanked his shot. Twenty-two minutes later and with Romania chasing the game and risking elimination if things stayed that way, he attacked David Hancko and with a swivel went past the Slovakia left back before being fouled. With everyone looking up at the cube in the stadium that shows replays, it took VAR nearly two minutes to overrule referee Danile Siebert’s decision to award a spot-kick.

Up stepped Razvan Marin and fired a shot so hard that even if he had guessed right it would have taken some effort from Martin Dubravka. A moment of magic had fetched a set-piece in the 37th minute for Romania to neutralise Ondrej Duda’s smart header in the 24th. The 1-1 result meant celebrations all around as both teams qualified for the round of 16.

Duda’s goal had come after a raking ball from the deep from Milan Skriniar found Peter Pekarik on the overlap. The Slovakia right-back played it back to Juraj Kucka whose delivery was aimed in the hole left by Romania at the heart of their defence. By the time Florin Nita gesticulated and Marin arrived, Duda had leapt and directed the header in.

Hagi was substituted in the 66th minute by Man but not before he had set up Marin again. This time the player who had run his laces through a shot against Ukraine used his outstep and Dubravka saved. Earlier, Denis Dragus had options on left and right, Hagi among them, but had decided to go solo and scuffed his effort. Late in the first half, Hagi nearly found Florinel Coman with a long-range pass nearly transforming into a chance what had looked like Romania being taken to a cul de sac.

Part of the second half was played in pouring rain. In that time, Slovakia tested Nita through David Strelec, the goalie keeping Romania in the game by sticking a leg out despite having shifted the wrong way. Then, with Nita watching helplessly, Lukas Haraslin saw his shot didn’t bend enough.

Both teams had promised to go for a win and as Romania again tried from range, a Duda delivery was cleared before Ivan Schranz could head. Taken off in the 78th, Schranz missed being among nine players in the history of the competition to score in all group league games.