Georgia went down fighting against Spain after lighting up their maiden tournament

Harry De Cosemo
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Tomas Holes in action during the Group F match of Euro 2024
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Tomas Holes in action during the Group F match of Euro 2024

Not even a year ago, during qualification for this very tournament, Spain beat Georgia 7-1 in Tbilisi. It was the sort of result all too common in international football, very few people outside either team would have thought anything of it.

But in Cologne tonight, Georgia showed just how much they’d improved in the 10 months since. They were beaten 4-1 and their debut foray into a major tournament comes to an end at the last-16 stage.

It was a frenetic game which never really stopped; getting through the groups meant Willy Sagnol’s team had already surpassed expectations. They could simply enjoy themselves, throw caution to the wind.

Boy, did they.

It was obvious to everyone, least of all Georgia, that Spain would dominate the ball and create plenty of chances. But that was the same as against Portugal in their final group game, and they sent them packing with a bloody nose and an infamous defeat.

Their choice was clear: sit and wait to be beaten; or throw punches of their own and see where it takes them. Georgi Mamardashvilli, who plies his trade in La Liga with Valencia, faced 17 shots in the first half. By that point, it was 1-1. Rodri had levelled just before the break, after Robin Le Normand’s own goal which followed a swift Georgian counter-attack.

Fabian Ruiz headed home a cross from Lamine Yamal, the inexplicable 16-year-old who has already cemented himself as the breakout star of the summer, on 51 minutes, before Nico Williams and Dani Olmo wrapped up the win. Yet Georgia kept true to themselves.

Their defensive line was deep and compact, with Mamardashvilli, who is almost certain to have played his way into a big move before the season starts, behind. But every time they went forward, they were swift. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Napoli’s superstar all-action attacker, and Georges Mikautadze, who came into the knockout stages as top scorer overall, led constant breakaways. Spain were looking on nervously at times.

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Eventually, Spain wrestled full control. With Yamal and Williams in full flow, Georgian hopes dwindled as the second half progressed. La Roja’s press had more bite, forcing their opponents into many more turnovers than in the first half and eventually, submission.

Georgia bow out having gained a lot. A minnow in both football and population terms, sitting 74th in the world and housing just 3.7 million people, they have done much more than avoiding disgracing themselves. They decided to see how far throwing caution to the wind could get them.

In Kvaratskhelia, they have a genuine talisman. World-class players in smaller nations are rare, but when they do come along, they must be used to full effect. Georgia are lucky that the 23-year-old can do it all; there aren’t many better dribblers, and he can score goals, too. He doesn’t need to be worked into games. He can pick them up by the scruff of its neck and dominate.

This was the first look many will have had at Georgia. Sagnol’s side have shown they can compete and hauled themselves out of European football obscurity to prove themselves. They’ve left their mark at Euro 2024. While Spain face hosts Germany in the quarter-finals intent on winning a third title in five tournaments, Georgia’s aim now must be to make summer appearances a regular occurrence.

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