History weighs heavily on upstart Georgia’s hopes of another Euro 2024 upset against Spain

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — History weighs heavily on Georgia’s chance of another stunning upset at the European Championship when facing Spain in the round of 16 on Sunday.

Still, after Georgia and its flying winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia beat Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo 2-0 on Wednesday in the group stage, anything seems possible.

But Spain has a lot more pedigree than Portugal.

Spain won back-to-back European titles in 2008 and 2012 long before Georgia made its major tournament debut as the lowest-ranked team at Euro 2024.

There was the 7-1 rout in Tbilisi last September and the 3-1 beating in Valladolid two months later when they met in Euro 2024 qualifying.

“The 7-1 did teach us a lot of things,” Georgia coach Willy Sagnol said on Saturday, a day before the national team’s biggest game. The winner will play Germany or Denmark in the quarterfinals on Friday, but that prospect looks remote for the Georgians.

In Sagnol’s first qualifying group as Georgia coach, in 2021, there were two more wins for Spain on its way to the 2022 World Cup.

It all adds up to Spain, No. 8 in FIFA’s world rankings, facing No. 74 Georgia in the biggest mismatch in the standings among the eight round-of-16 pairings.

“But we know Spain, very well,” Sagnol said. “We played them four times in the last three years. We lost four times and that’s just the way it is. But it’s a different competition tomorrow.”

The main difference could be the confidence Georgia has taken from beating Portugal to book an unlikely place in the knockout rounds.

“This will be a totally different game. Georgia have improved a lot,” Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said on Saturday.

Sagnol even suggested the 7-1 beating is one of the reasons Georgia is still here in Germany.

“Of course it has been a difficult moment for us. But, you know, sometimes, to get further in life, you need … yes, you need moments like that where it’s very difficult,” said the former France defender, who played in the team that lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in Berlin.

“Where you think you’re not good, where you think you have done everything bad … it’s always good, you know, to have moments like that.”

That game in Tbilisi also was the international debut of 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, a breakout star of Euro 2024. The Spanish teen set a European Championship record in Tbilisi as the youngest ever scorer in a qualifying game.

“He has only just started. I hope we can continue to enjoy him for many, many years to come,” De la Fuente said. “We’re also trying to train him as a person, not just as a footballer.”


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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