It was not the most beautiful or the easiest win Romania recorded in the EHF EURO 2018, but they nevertheless claimed their fourth victory in five games, beating Spain 27:25 on Tuesday night in Nancy.
Cristina Neagu took over after a slow 20 minutes, scoring seven goals, while line player Crina Pintea, who was named player of the match, added six of her own to help Romania closer to a semi-final berth. Goalkeeper Denisa Dedu also took her share of responsibility, registering 11 saves.
"We fought very hard and we showed that we are united in crucial moments. I cried after the game because it was a very hard one and we showed that we could find even the last drop of strength and leave it on the court," said Pintea.
A point against Hungary on Wednesday will see Romania through to the final weekend.
Spain vs Romania 25:27 (12:10)
Romania topped the ehf-euro.com power rankings after the preliminary round, owing to the highest number of goals scored in the first three games and a stout defence highlighted by the best percentage for a goalkeeper pair in the EHF EURO 2018.
But Romania were a shadow of themselves both in the first game of the main round in Nancy and in the first half against Spain.
There was no connection between the players, huge nerves even in the simplest pass and big misses that saw Spain jump to a 5:1 lead, with a special outing from playmaker Alicia Fernandez Fraga, who plies her trade in Romania for club side SCM Ramnicu Valcea.
It was astonishing to see Romania scoring only two shots in the first 10 minutes, but their woes continued, as their top scorer Eliza Buceschi recorded turnover after turnover.
There were 10 turnovers for Ambros Martin’s side after 18 minutes, but Romania were still in the game, as Spain’s advantage crumbled to 10:8 after a 3:0 run spurred by Cristina Neagu.
Romania missed three golden chances to cut the gap to one goal, as both Neagu and Buceschi failed to connect their passes with their teammates. But the ambition was there, with a 12:10 score line after 30 minutes that promised a do-or-die second half for both sides.
With no chance to proceed to the final weekend in Paris, Spain began to falter in the second half and after 40 minutes of hard work, Romania took the lead for the first time, 16:15, thanks to a Cristina Florica fast break.
After Spain reclaimed the lead with back-to-back goals from Carmen Martin, it was a 4:0 run powered by Crina Pintea and Florica that proved pivotal for Romania, who jumped to a 20:17 lead. Spain kept pressing hard, but Romania took a 27:25 scrappy win.
"This was the Spanish spirit. We got back after defeats, we showed that we wanted the win. Romania played for a semi-final place and they were better. Tomorrow we want to win against Norway," said Spain back Nerea Pena.
Romania will earn a semi-final berth with a draw on Wednesday in their derby against Hungary, but could also still proceed with a loss, if there will be a multi-team tiebreaker.