Georgia make history by reaching Euro 2024 knockouts

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Gelsenkirchen, Germany, June 27 (AFP/APP):Georgia are through to the last 16 of Euro 2024 after Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Portugal, a historic triumph in the former Soviet Republic’s first appearance at a major international tournament.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s fine finish with less than two minutes on the clock in Gelsenkirchen and Georges Mikautadze’s 57th-minute penalty ensured Georgia would claim the greatest football victory in the Black Sea nation’s history.
Georgia’s players celebrated with their delirious fans long after the final whistle, after inflicting a first defeat since the 2022 World Cup on Portugal, and being rewarded for the sheer fun they have brought to the tournament.
Willy Sagnol’s team qualify from Group F as one of the four best third-placed finishers and face a daunting clash with Spain, who won all their group games, on Sunday.
“We just made history, nobody would have believed that we would have made it happen by beating Portugal, but this is why we are a strong team,” Kvaratskhelia told reporters.
“If there is even one percent chance you can make it happen if you believe.”
Portugal had already qualified for the next round as group winners and coach Roberto Martinez made eight changes from the team which swept Turkey aside to guarantee first place last weekend.
However, his team were on top for most of the match and looked likely to equalise before Antonio Silva, who gave the ball away for the first goal, was harshly penalised for light contact with Luka Lochoshvili to give away the decisive penalty.
“We were low intensity, we conceded early which is what Georgia needed and after that we weren’t clear headed in our passing or finishing,” Martinez told reporters.
“We tried to score but couldn’t, that gave Georgia heart and in the end it was a deserved win.”
Regardless Portugal will face Slovenia on Monday and, saving any injuries, Martinez will have a mostly rested first XI to call upon.
– History makers –
Kvaratskhelia was the beneficiary of Silva sloppily giving away possession to Mikautadze, who after scoring in both of Georgia’s previous matches with Turkey and the Czech Republic turned provider.
Mikautadze gave a perfectly-weighted pass to Kvaratskhelia who burst through on goal from his preferred position in the inside-right channel and stroked home a precision finish.
It was unfamiliarly clinical finishing from Georgia who would have come into Wednesday’s match with more than one point had they made the most of their chances.
From there, Sagnol’s team were content to sit back and protect their slender lead as Portugal sent forward wave after wave of attack against a packed defence.
First Ronaldo smashed a free-kick straight at Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili in the 17th minute before he was booked just before the half-hour mark for dissent after what he thought was a foul from Lochoshvili.
Francisco Conceicao hit the side netting while Ronaldo protested to referee Sandro Scherer and moments later Joao Felix fizzed a long-range shot just wide.
Ronaldo’s frustrations continued almost immediately after half-time when he looked certain to score from a corner only for Lasha Dvali to unwittingly save the day with his back.
Kvaratskhelia then wasted a great chance to double his team’s lead before Mikautadze, who has been Georgia’s best player in the tournament, stroked in his third goal in as many games from the penalty spot.
Georgia then closed ranks and made rare, but dangerous forays into Portugal’s defensive third, holding out for the win to the joy of their supporters.