Fearless Georgia departs Euro 2024 but leaves behind plenty of highlights

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Khvicha Kvaratskhelia found himself in space on the halfway line and spotted Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón out of position. Why not take a shot?

The Napoli winger’s effort bounced just wide of the post this time, but it was so nearly spectacular and showed an ambitious Georgia team that seemed to have no fear of failure at Euro 2024.

The lowest-ranked team in the tournament lost 4-1 to Spain in the round of 16 on Sunday, but it went down fighting after taking the lead early on. Any sadness from the loss will fade as players appreciate just what they achieved, Georgia coach Willy Sagnol predicted.

“I’m sure in some days we will realize what we have done and I think happiness is going to come back very quickly,” Sagnol said.

Before the tournament began, Sagnol just wanted his team to gain experience on its debut in such a major competition as an independent nation. Results were secondary and political turmoil at home threatened to overshadow the whole campaign.

Then Georgia pulled off one of the biggest shocks in tournament history by beating Portugal 2-0. Suddenly it was in the knockout stages and the players were promised a $10.7 million bonus from a politically connected billionaire back home. Another bonus was on offer for beating Spain.

“Believe,” read a giant banner at the Georgian end of the stadium, just like in fictional coach Ted Lasso’s locker room. Georgia did, and it leaves behind quite the Euro 2024 highlight reel.

In its opening 3-1 loss against Turkey, Georgia scored off an elaborate passing move. In its 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic, Georgia nearly won but missed a crucial shot on the last kick of the game. The shock win over Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal was built on audacious dribbling in the midfield and goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili hurling himself at the ball for crucial saves.

Where Georgia goes from here is unclear. Sagnol deflected a question about whether he might stay for the qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“Sometimes you have to take the time to sit and look at what you have done and I think we can sit in peace and quiet, everyone, and look at the last year,” he said.

“Now it’s the end of a journey but I’m sure the next one will be also very exciting.”


AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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