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Monday, July 15, 2024

Radu Dragusin, Romania’s defensive pillar at Euro 2024 – who Tottenham fans haven’t seen yet

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Unbeaten in qualifying, perhaps there shouldn’t be quite so much surprise over Romania’s thumping victory over Ukraine.

The Tricolorii scored both well-worked and thunderously-hit strikes, claimed a 3-0 win in Group E and got themselves off to a magnificent start at Euro 2024, already a huge step towards the knockouts taken – something they’ve not managed since Euro 2000.

And yet for all the explosive nature of both goals and celebrations, Romania’s biggest strength in qualifying was one they showed again here in less obvious terms: their defensive resolve and organisation.

Edward Iordanescu’s side conceded just five times in ten matches during qualifying, and while none were against the absolute elite of European football, it’s still a record to be proud of and a base to build from.

Key to much of it on the day against Ukraine was the aggressive, bullish and – importantly – consistent performance by centre-back Radu Dragusin, a name more familiar to Tottenham Hotspur fans than his face might be, given they signed him in January but saw him don their jersey only four times from the start, fewer than 500 Premier League minutes all told.

In the yellow of Romania, however, he was monstrous and showed why he was such a highly-prized mid-season capture.

While attention and acclaim will rightly go to the likes of Nicolae Stanciu for a vibrant performance and sensational goal, Dragusin and his defensive counterparts had frustrated and turned away Ukraine a number of times already by that point and only grew in their resolve thereafter.

On the deck and in the air, Dragusin was relentless in showcasing his power and determination to win every ball, but without sacrificing the organisation and alignment of the side.

Dragusin wins an aerial dual with Zabarnyi

Dragusin wins an aerial dual with Zabarnyi (AFP via Getty Images)

Dragusin in possession for Romania

Dragusin in possession for Romania (Getty Images)

The 22-year-old former Genoa man won both his direct aerial battles, but more notably made a succession of unchallenged clearances with his header, cutting out deliveries and dangerous-looking balls before they could turn into actual chances on goal.

Epitomising his performance of industry and emotion was a 72nd-minute interception of a low cross, throwing himself in front of Artem Dovbyk to slide behind for a corner and leaping to his feet to pump his fists, roar to the sky and take the baying adulation of the crowd five feet away.

It was everything Romania needed, every time they needed it: raising the belief, keeping the discipline, embracing the occasion.

No player on the pitch made more defensive actions than his 13 – combining clearances, recoveries and blocks – and nobody beat him for aerial clearances either.

While not exactly a creative force from deep, in a game where Romania managed only 29 per cent possession, it was also important that their defenders didn’t waste the ball; Dragusin completed all but two of his passes, while also surging forward notably once late on, relieving pressure and dragging his side 40 yards upfield.

Not yet capped 20 times for his national team and with barely over 100 senior club appearances behind him, Dragusin lacks experience but nothing for mentality.

Romania have enjoyed their best day on the international stage for over two decades with him at the heart of it; they’ll need him more before this summer is out – and perhaps Spurs will begin to wonder how they might utilise those traits next year.

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