As Euro 2024 approaches its final group stage matchday, Group E stands on a knife-edge, with all four teams locked at three points each. This has never happened in Euro’s rich history; amidst this thrilling unpredictability, Romania and Slovakia prepare for a crucial encounter at Deutsche Bank Park on Wednesday, merely 200km from Stuttgart arena where Belgium will take on Ukraine, each aiming to secure a spot in the round of 16.

Romania’s players huddle prior to the UEFA Euro 2024 Group E match(AFP)

In a group initially perceived as straightforward, both, Romania and Slovakia, have defied expectations, setting the stage for a historic showdown.

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Romania’s journey in Euro 2024 has rekindled the nation’s passion for football. After years of indifference, the fans have returned to the streets, celebrating their team’s resurgence in this year’s Euro. The opening match against Ukraine was a masterclass in resilience and strategy, resulting in a stunning 3-0 victory.

Captain Nicolae Stanciu and midfielder Razvan Marin delivered long-range strikes that left Ukraine shell-shocked, propelling Romania to their first European Championship win in 24 years. They put out a spirited performance against Belgium, too, but the difference in quality was evident as they went down fighting, conceding two goals to none. On Wednesday, a draw against Slovakia will suffice to see Romania through, thanks to their superior goal difference.

Slovakia’s path to this decisive match has been equally compelling. Their campaign began with a surprising 1-0 victory over Belgium, a match that saw forward Ivan Schranz score early and the defense withstand relentless Belgian pressure. Key moments included heroic defensive efforts, notably Dávid Hancko’s brave goal-line block, which preserved Slovakia’s lead despite sustaining a facial injury.

However, Slovakia’s fortunes took a turn in their second match against Ukraine, where they succumbed to a late comeback. Now, as they face Romania, Slovakia, too, know that a draw will be enough to secure their progression as one of the best third-placed teams.

The upcoming clash promises a fascinating tactical battle. Romania’s strength lies in their solid midfield, led by Stanciu and Marin, who have shown the ability to control the tempo and strike from distance. Defensively, they will rely on their disciplined backline to contain Slovakia’s attacking threats.

On the other hand, Slovakia will look to replicate their defensive solidity from the Belgium match while seeking opportunities to exploit Romania’s defense through quick counter-attacks. Schranz will be a key figure in their offensive play, supported by a resilient midfield that can disrupt Romania’s rhythm.

The Biscotto

Given the context, the term “biscotto” – referring to a mutually beneficial draw – looms over this match. Both teams are aware that a draw would see them through to the knockout stages. The coaches, however, are justifiably not paying attention to the chatter.

“We can’t control with people talk about. We are balanced in our approach,” Edward Ioanescu, the Romanian manager said in the pre-match press conference.

He did, however, assert that the priority is to qualify for the next round first.

“We have full concentration for the game. We are playing to qualify. We want to finish first, from the beginning, we have been first. This is a desire. If we win the group, theoretically, you have certain advantage, in terms of extra rest days and opponents. But the most important thing is to qualify,” Ioanescu added.

Francesco Calzona, the Slovakian manager, had a similar response, as he insisted qualification remains the first and foremost aim.

“I’m not going to comment on that. We are professionals, we know the draw might help us but that doesn’t mean anything. But we want to play how we play. Nobody takes anything for granted. We hope we will win, and if we draw and that allows us to progress, we will welcome that,” said Calzona.

Qualification scenarios

Take a deep breath, because this is going to be long. And complicated. Ready? Here we go:

Romania

Through to Round of 16 (Top Two): If they avoid defeat by Slovakia.

Out of Round of 16: If they lose and Ukraine win/draw.

Belgium

Through to Round of 16 (Top Two): If they win/draw against Ukraine.

Out of Round of 16: If they lose and Romania win/draw.

Slovakia

Through to Round of 16 (Top Two or Best Third-Placed Team): If they win/draw against Romania.

Out of Round of 16: If they lose and Belgium win/draw.

Ukraine

Through to Round of 16 (Top Two): If they beat Belgium.

Through to Round of 16 (Best Third-Placed Team): If they draw and the other game is not drawn.

Out of Round of 16: If they lose and Slovakia win/draw, or if both games are drawn.

If Both Games Are Drawn

Here, too, there are some further technicalities.

All teams finish equal on four points. Scenarios then are:

Scenario A

If the scoreline is same, or Belgium vs Ukraine is a draw with fewer goals than Slovakia vs Romania; for example, Belgum draw 0-0 with Ukraine while Slovakia draw 1-1 with Romania, the table will be:

Romania
Belgium
Slovakia
Ukraine

Scenario B

If the scoreline is different: Belgium vs Ukraine ends 1-1 and Slovakia vs Romania ends 0-0, or if Belgium scores exactly one more goal than Romania in their draw, the table will be:

Belgium (head-to-head over Romania)
Romania
Slovakia
Ukraine

Other Draw Scenarios:

  • Romania and Belgium occupy top two spots, split on goals scored.
  • Belgium win the group if they score two (or more) goals more than Romania in their draw.
  • Romania win the group if they score more goals than Belgium in their draw.
  • Slovakia finish ahead of Ukraine in third place based on goal difference.