Shinners, rain, a raucous Red Wall and Guler of the tournament – Turkey-Georgia had everything and more

Dave Tickner
Arda Guler scores for Turkey in a thrilling Euro 2024 win over Georgia
Arda Guler scores for Turkey in a thrilling Euro 2024 win over Georgia

For the Qatar World Cup, we tried to reconcile the sheer rogue unfamiliarity of both the host nation and time in the calendar by ranking every single group game by how intrinsically ‘World Cup group stage’ they felt.

You can read it here, if you are so inclined. We did, and disagree with ourselves on several choices. We toyed with doing the same for the Euros, but decided against it because really, the nature of a continental championship is that any fixture can feel like a qualifier, a group game or a knockout.

And the other crucial difference was that this tournament has none of that alien weirdness that was unavoidable with Qatar. It’s not even a question of the morals or ethics of it. Qatar was a tournament played at an unfamiliar time in unfamiliar stadiums and with an inevitable other-worldy quality.

What you’ve got in Germany is something altogether more magical. You’ve got enormously familiar stadiums that nevertheless look completely different. At Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, the legendary Yellow Wall was replaced by a Red Wall or raucous Turkey fans.

The supporters of both teams and the rain hammering down ensured this was going to be a spectacle not easily forgotten. The players then made sure it would go down as the game of the tournament so far. And it’s had some competition even at this early stage. This was wonderful, edge-of-the-seat entertainment from the start to absurd conclusion.

And it brings us back to our starting point. Georgia, being European Championship finals debutants, inevitably bring a different feel to their games. They don’t feel quite like major tournament games on paper, but then that happens and you wonder how we’ve ever managed to have major tournaments without them.

This is why big summer international football tournaments are just so brilliant. Let’s be entirely honest with ourselves here. If this game had been a qualifying match taking place in November, how many of us would be making the effort to tune in at 5pm on a Tuesday afternoon? Put your hands down, you massive f***ing liars.

But in a major tournament, it has the eyes and ears of the whole continent and beyond. And it was simply magnificent. Even the absence of a 2pm game only added to the occasion. Having grown thoroughly addicted to that early afternoon treat after just three days, the long wait rocking back and forth in the seat for kick-off here gave an extra and thoroughly unnecessary level of drama to it all.

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As for the action itself, Turkey – who let so very many of us down three years ago under the Dark Horse banner – did what they had to do and secured three points. This tells but a fraction of the ludicrous story that unfolded here in Dortmund.

Turkey took a deserved lead on 25 minutes through a stunning volley from Mert Muldur, the latest instalment in a proud history of epic tournament thunderbastards from right-backs.

By the time closer inspection revealed he’d shinned the ball at about 80mph into the top corner, Turkey had already had a second goal chalked off because Kenan Yildiz had strayed half-a-boot offside.

The semi-automated offside VAR worked a treat here, but we’re now going to need the boffins to put that to one side, and also stop fiddling about with result-predicting Supercomputers or revealing how many revolutions per second are on the ball and concentrate all their efforts on just why and how a perfectly-timed shinner can generate so much more power than the more traditional boot-based effort.

We’ve got a theory, if the nerds and boffs are interested. And it goes like this: a shin is more like a baseball bat, and a boot is more like a cricket bat. It’s easy to make decent consistent contact with the latter’s larger sweet spot, far harder with the minuscule curved meat of the shin-pad.

But when you find the meat of the shin-pad, look out because that ball is going to absolutely fly.

Might be b*llocks. Might not. Definitive answers we cheerfully leave to the boffins.

By the time we’d put the finishing touches to that ridiculous guess, Georgia were level through Georges Mikautadze’s neat near-post finish from Giorgi Kochorashvil’s clever cutback.

Mert Gunok should probably have done better in the Turkey goal, but it feels churlish to criticise anyone involved in making this game the spectacle that it was.

When the second half began, you could sense the urgency in both Turkey’s players and supporters. But it was a faintly wild and incoherent urgency. It looked very quickly rather more like panic. They knew how important this game was, and also that they had let control slip away after taking the lead and coming inches away from doubling it.

For the first 20 minutes of the second half, Turkey had most of the ball and did most of the attacking but it was Georgia’s less frequent forays that carried the greater sense of purpose and coherence. It was fascinating, noisy and brilliant.

And then Arda Guler, the brilliant 19-year-old from Real Madrid, produced the highlight of a game stacked with them. A ludicrously beautiful goal, a shot from distance that arced and curved menacingly at high speed and was never, ever going anywhere other than the top corner.

If there have been two defining themes of the first round of games here it has been of the new generation muscling in to take the spotlight from ageing greats, and also long-range goals of rare aesthetic appeal. This, then, was the perfect collision of those two plot strands.

And still we weren’t remotely done. Not once but twice in injury time came chances that left every Georgia player with their heads in their hands as a near-certain equaliser somehow failed to materialise. If Guler had produced the platonic ideal of a goal, then Guram Kashia’s headed block to keep the score 2-1 perfected the ‘worth as much as a goal’ defender’s art.

His full-throated roar of celebration would be a worthy defining image of most games. Yet here it would already struggle to crack the top five even before Turkey broke from the subsequent corner to score a match-clinching third goal into the net left unguarded by Giorgi Mamardashvili’s all-or-nothing jog upfield for the set-piece.

The brutal truth of an all-or-nothing gamble is that very often the outcome is nothing. But Georgia played such a joyous and vital part both on the field and off in this game-of-the-tournament contender that it really does feel like it is definitely something.