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Romania and Slovakia coaches won't be drawn on talk of a mutually beneficial draw at UEFA Euro 2024

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Even if many speculate on a mutually beneficial draw when Romania meets Slovakia on Wednesday in the European Championship, the coaches do not want to hear it.

“We can’t control what people talk about,” Romania coach Edward Iordănescu said Tuesday when told pre-game chatter around Europe was of playing to win one point that would send both his team and Slovakia to the round of 16 — where Kylian Mbappé and France could await one of them.

Slovakia coach Francesco Calzona had earlier been more blunt: “I am not going to comment on that.”

In Calzona’s native Italy the word “biscotto” describes a result arrived at by two teams that benefits each other to the detriment of another.

At Euro 2004, Italy was eliminated in the group stage unbeaten and with the same five points as Sweden and Denmark. The Swedes and Danes advanced because their 2-2 draw in the last game lifted them above Italy on the rarely used tiebreaker of goals scored.

It seemed an unlikely candidate for collusion when Sweden did not tie the score until the 89th minute, but the outcome took a small place in European Championship lore.

Now the Euros has 24 teams instead of 16, a built-in quirk is that four of the six teams finishing third in a group must advance to have a balanced round-of-16 bracket.

An advantage of being in Group E — that includes Romania and Slovakia, plus Belgium and Ukraine, all on three points so far — is playing on the last day of the group stage thus knowing exactly what is needed to advance.

Group A finished Sunday and third-place Hungary waits to see if its three points and minus-3 goal difference is enough to advance.

When the two Group E games start at the same time Wednesday, at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT), Romania will be top ahead of Belgium on the secondary tiebreaker of goals scored, with Slovakia third and Ukraine last on the primary tiebreaker of goal difference. High-scoring games Wednesday can change the calculations.

One certainty is that a Romania-Slovakia draw gets Romania a top-two finish and sends Slovakia through with one of the best third-place records.

“We are playing to qualify and, yes, we do want to finish first,” Iordănescu said in translated comments, detailing the advantages of being top of the group: An extra day of rest and a potentially lower-ranked opponent in the round of 16.

Any of the four teams can still be the group winner and not have to play for six more days — next Tuesday in Munich, against a third-place team.

The runner-up plays Monday in Duesseldorf, against the runner-up in Group D that was surprisingly France with Mbappé now back in action. Finish third in Group E and a likely next opponent is in-form Spain on Sunday.

“We are professionals and we know that a draw might help us to qualify” Calzona said, quickly adding: “That doesn’t mean anything.”

As for commentators speculating on a convenient draw, the Slovakia coach suggested many European pundits also praised his team for earning its current position.

“Nobody gave us anything for free,” Calzona said. “If this draw allows us to progress, we will welcome that.”

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024