The perfect night for England at Euro 2024 as Ronaldo strops and Georgia make history

Will Ford
Ronaldo Kvaratskhelia Southgate
Georgia did England a favour as Ronaldo drew a blank again.

Thank you, Georgia. As England-centric fans of fun football, giant killings and Cristiano Ronaldo strops that could not have gone better.

“He is an icon in Georgia!” Clive Tyldesley roared after 93 seconds as Khvicha Kvaratskhelia found the far corner with a perfect finish after a perfect first touch after a perfectly weighted though ball from fellow Portuguese tormentor and national hero Georges Mikautadze, who later scored a penalty to confirm Georgia’s qualification for the knockout stages of the first major tournament in their history.

That alone would have been enough for us, but there was far more joy to be had from the final group game of a largely joyous European Championship thus far, save for England games.

But Gareth Southgate and his Three Lions players will also be feeling pretty jolly right now. They already knew after their bore draw with Slovenia that they wouldn’t have to meet any of Germany, Spain, Portugal or France until the final. Belgium’s own lame attempt to play football on Wednesday means they will also be on the other side of the draw to England, who will now not play the Netherlands in the last 16, ranked seventh in the FIFA rankings, but Slovakia, ranked 45th, thanks to Georgia’s triumph.

READ MORE: England Euro 2024 knockout path: Slovakia not Netherlands await after Georgia stun Portugal

The draw is laughably lopsided. One of Romania, Netherlands, Austria, Turkey, England, Slovakia or Italy will be in the final on July 14. England and Italy were the finalists last time, but are no one’s favourites after the group stage this time around.

Romania, Turkey and Slovakia are worthy last 16-ers but anything more than that would have been considered a quite brilliant achievement before the tournament started. Austria have more than earned their dark horses tag and are an excellent team but have limited individual quality. The Netherlands are the opposite. Teams in the Bad Half (or good, depending how you look at it) will be thinking they need only win their semi-final to claim the trophy.

Georgia are great value. Kvaratskhelia took his goal beautifully and one particularly mazy dribble was astonishing. Paris Saint-Germain are leading the hunt ahead of Liverpool for his signature this summer, and these performances will be doing Napoli no harm whatsoever in their bid to prize a few more Euros from interested parties. On this showing  €100m would be reasonable.

👉 Kobbie Mainoo leads the England Clamour rankings; will Gareth Southgate listen?
👉 Declan Rice joins Saka, Bellingham and Kane in getting England pelters
👉 Euro 2024 Power Rankings: Austria leapfrog England, France and many, many others

Mikautadze was just as good and Georgia in general are so watchable thanks to their willingness to give the ball away. That sounds counterproductive, but it’s because they try things. How many times in three England games did we see players take risks and attempt to pass the ball through tight spaces? A handful of times before Kobbie Mainoo, Cole Palmer and Anthony Gordon came on against Slovenia. Southgate’s circumspect side could learn from the adventurousness of Georgia, who cede possession but then race around in a counter-press trying to win it back. It’s entertaining. As is Ronaldo failing to find the net in three games and throwing his toys out of the pram.

The scorer of the most goals in European Championship finals (14) and with qualifying included (55), who won the Golden Boot in the last edition (5) and has the most international goals in history (130) couldn’t score a goal against Turkey, Czechia or Georgia. Lovely stuff.

He kicked a water bottle on his way off the pitch after being substituted and having been shown a first yellow card for shouting at the referee he could easily have been shown a second in this tournament of stricter officiating for any of his four or five further shows of dissent.

The arm flapping having had the shirt nearly ripped from his back in the penalty area was particularly agreeable, but further schadenfreude was enjoyed as two very good chances were blocked by flying Georgians and when the brilliant Giorgi Mamardashvili denied him scoring from a leathered free-kick.

For once it’s not Ronaldo’s night, which may well come against Slovenia on Monday, or maybe England in the final. Because despite being almost entirely terrible for the first three games of a major tournament, Southgate’s side have been handed a hugely favourable draw and – on paper – a relatively simple path to remain in Germany for the duration.

Extraordinary good fortune for England on an extraordinary night for Georgia. Cheers, guys.