The place was hotter and noisier than one of those circles of Hell Dante was so interested in, and also yellower. On the big screen women dressed as lips and an accordion the size of a Renault 5 paraded around the pitch , while in the real world everybloodybody was blowing whistles, honking plastic horns, yelling for more beer, and sweating.
This was downstairs at Beraria H, the biggest beerhall in
Bucharest Romania Eastern Europe, pulsating with anticipation of the opening match of Euro 2016. The last time the whole continent’s eyes were focused so intently on Romanian footballers – if you don’t count Adrian Mutu‘s cocaine-related sacking from Chelsea in 2004 – was probably Euro 2000, when Phil Neville mistimed that tackle in the 89th minute.*
As far as the actual sporting content of this contest goes, I remember little. But you don’t want to read about that – you watched it, or if you didn’t it’s because you’re not interested, and you’ve probably realised by now that I don’t know much about tactics. Romania played solidly, as most people were expecting. France did not dazzle as much as we had perhaps feared. At half time the mood was positive, aided by a special offer on Ciuc beer, but not long into the second period goalkeeper Ciprian Tătărușanu was feebly beaten to a deep Payet cross by Giroud, who headed in for the opening goal.
As an Englishman I recognised the air of crushed resignation at the (crushing) inevitability of what had just happened, which pervaded the place at this point. Yet, in between increasingly regular visits to the toilets (which I imagine must surely rank among the biggest pub toilets in the region – but where are the posters advertising this?) there seemed to be a bit of resilience on the part of the Romanian team and jitteriness among the French. Sure enough, a bizarre, slow-motion lift of the knee by Evra, apparently unaware of the football match going on around him, allowed Stanciu to fall down in the area, and his not-quite-namesake Stancu converted the penalty. I was totally convinced that this was the softest possible penalty, and laughed about it for the rest of the evening, but it turns out it was a foul after all. I am so inured to Romanian diving that I cannot believe in ANYTHING ANY MORE!
Magnificently, however, in the 89th minute, just as it seemed the men in yellow would hold out for a creditable draw, Payet ensured that Romanians’ hopes are not too high going into the second group game. Considerate of him.
Next stop: Switzerland on Wednesday. But before that, there’s some Romania international rugby going on near my house, so I’ll take that over more of this slow-moving, lumpen, non-contact round-ball malarkey. Plus: there are no 89th minutes in rugby to upset me. (Or 91st minutes, thanks Russia.)
*That match, in case you’ve forgotten, ensured that the classic England team of Wise, Keown, Martyn, Barmby et al. did not progress beyond the group stage, thus ending the international career of totemic goalgetter Alan Shearer. For the Romanians, however, qualification for the next round enabled Gheorghe Hagi, who was suspended for the England game, to play for his country one more time. He went on to be sent off in his 125th and last game, the defeat to Italy in the quarter-final.