Georgia’s players trying to snap out of their dream ahead of historic first match at Euro 2024

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) — For the nation of Georgia, a first ever qualification for a major soccer tournament was the realization of an ambition the country has had since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Willy Sagnol’s task has been to drill into his players that it’s just the beginning.

“They still had all these emotions,” Georgia’s French coach said. “They had a feeling they were living a dream. But the dream has to stop at some point.”

That point will come on Tuesday when the team from the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million plays Turkey in Dortmund in their opening group game of the European Championship.

Amid protests and political turmoil back home, the Georgian people couldn’t be more excited ahead of the biggest moment in their soccer history.

“The energy in the country is just football energy,” Georgia captain Guram Kashia said, a wide smile on his face. “In Georgia, when you talk about football and our achievement, this energy is crazy.”

As evidence, a moped driver has traveled 4,000 kilometers (about 2,500 miles) over 12 days to deliver a Georgian flag to the squad at its training base in Germany. The flag was covered in messages of support from people back home.

“We are going to fight like never before,” Kashia added in his pre-match news conference at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion. “This is not party time for us — we want to show we deserve to be here.”

Kashia said he “almost passed out from happiness” after Georgia beat Greece in a penalty shootout in one of the playoff finals in March to secure a place at Euro 2024 and spark celebrations in the capital, Tbilisi, that lasted long into the night.

In recent weeks, there have been demonstrations in Georgia against what protestors call the “Russian law,” which they say would restrict the country’s media and jeopardize its bid to join the European Union. The bill has been signed into law by the speaker of parliament after the legislature overrode the president’s veto.

Georgia’s soccer games over the next couple of weeks — the team also plays Portugal and Turkey in Group F — might get the people out on the streets again, like they were in Dortmund on Monday in anticipation of the Turkey game.

“Georgia fans have no filter,” said Sagnol, Georgia’s coach since 2021, “but that’s also why I like them so much. They keep dreaming.

“The country hadn’t dreamt before the playoff (against Greece). If they hadn’t have dreamed, we will have never achieved it.”

At No. 75, Georgia is the lowest-ranked soccer nation at Euro 2024. The team notable for its star winger, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia of Napoli, isn’t expected to get out of its group.

That suits Sagnol, whose illustrious playing career saw him reach the World Cup final with France in 2006 and win the Champions League with Bayern Munich.

“When you are Georgia and you have to talk about the strength of the opponent, the list can be long,” he said when asked about Turkey. “It’s our first match but it’s also their first match — I’m sure they will have much more pressure than we have.

“The Georgia players are ready for the fight.”


AP Euro 2024:

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