EURO 2024 Talking Points: Romania sparkle, Belgium flounder & France field familiar faces

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EURO 2024 Talking Points: Romania sparkle, Belgium flounder & France field familiar faces

Romania produced the performance of the day on Monday
Romania produced the performance of the day on MondayProfimedia
Monday's action at Euro 2024 saw heavyweights Belgium and France get their campaigns started with mixed results and Romania show some early form. Catch up on the main talking points below.

Can the real dark horse please stand up?

Everyone loves an underdog story, and every major tournament is made infinitely better by one. However, the first round of matches at Euro 2024 was giving us little to get excited about on that front. And then Romania came along.

With precious few big names in their squad, they were widely fancied to finish bottom of what is, on paper, the weakest group in the tournament. Given that, it was a shock when they romped to a 3-0 win over Ukraine, but in hindsight, maybe it shouldn't have been.

In qualifying, the Romanians topped their group ahead of a strong Switzerland side that opened their own tournament with a dominant win over Hungary, a side many fancied to be the dark horses in Germany. In their final competitive match before the Euros, they beat the Swiss 1-0 and then followed that up with a real statement of a win over Ukraine in Munich.

They may not have played their opponents off the park, but they defended excellently in their own half, not giving away any major chances, and took their own in some style, even if they had a little help from Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Lunin.

Man dominated the right wing
Man dominated the right wingStatsPerform

Parma winger Dennis Man - who got 13 goals for the Italian club in the season just gone - was particularly impressive, making three key passes and creating goals with two of them, while Tottenham defender Radu Dragusin lived up to his billing as the team's main man with 10 clearances.

They may not have too much else to shout about in terms of individuals, but time and time again at major international tournaments we've seen unfancied sides punch above their weight thanks to tactics, mentality and one or two star players. Could Romania be the next one of those?

Belgium need an alternative to Lukaku

We finally got the first major upset of the tournament on Monday afternoon as Slovakia stunned Belgium 1-0 in Group E to kick-start their tournament.

Aside from it being a disastrous start to the campaign in Germany for Domenico Tedesco’s Red Devils, the loss exposed the Belgian attack’s lack of bite as they huffed and puffed but couldn’t get the goal they needed after conceding early.

The biggest culprit of wasting chances was the country’s record-scorer and mainstay in attack Romelu Lukaku, who had two shots on target, yielding an Expected Goals (xG) score of 1.20. Lukaku did have two goals chalked off, one for offside and one for a handball in the buildup, but still, he couldn’t get the job done.

Lukaku was wasteful for Belgium
Lukaku was wasteful for BelgiumProfimedia, Flashscore

It wasn’t all bad from Belgium or Lukaku, indeed they were truly unlucky to lose a game in which the xG score was 1.97:0.58 in their favour but it was striking that Tedesco didn’t try an alternative up front as the game wore on.

Sitting on the bench he had Atalanta attacker Charles De Ketelaere and RB Leipzig’s Lois Openda - two players who have come off brilliant club campaigns. Admittedly, they are different profiles to Lukaku but they are options that deserve to be tried. Openda did make it on in place of Jeremy Doku out wide, making an almost immediate impact, but not until the 84th minute.

With Belgium now under huge pressure to get results in their next two games against an in-form Romania and Ukraine, Tedesco might have to try a different tack, and sooner in the game, if Lukaku continues to miss the target.

Same old France, slightly higher expectations

It may be a brand-new tournament, but it is certainly still the same old France. With the return of N'Golo Kante to the fold, he walked into a midfield alongside Antoine Griezmann and Adrien Rabiot, it felt like something of a throwback when Les Bleus took on Austria in Dusseldorf for the late game on Monday.

The former Chelsea and Leicester City man was utterly excellent in the heart of midfield, proving that he still has so much left in his tank despite the move to Saudi Arabia at the age of 33.

Kante was superb against Austria
Kante was superb against AustriaProfimedia, Statsperform

Just like in previous years, there is nothing too pretty about Les Bleus and the way they play. Under Didier Deschamps, they set up to be strong in midfield and solid at the back, while relying on the star quality and transitional pace of Kylian Mbappe, and in part, Ousmane Dembele.

Mbappe's class and cutting edge was the difference in this game once again, with his fast feet and electric speed causing the Austria defence all sorts of problems for the only goal of the game - an own goal scored by Maximilian Wober.

It may not always be eye-catching, but it is a style that made France World Champions in 2018 and a side that has reached three finals during Deschamps' tenure.

France fielded some familiar faces against Austria
France fielded some familiar faces against AustriaProfimedia

They have yet to taste success in Europe since his appointment in 2012, but who can bet against them picking up the prize this summer? You certainly would be brave to do so.

If anything has changed for France as the Deschamps era comes into its sixth major tournament, it's that the expectations of the side have grown. Their fans will not expect anything less than a trophy in Germany, but can they live up to that pressure?

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