Georgia stun Portugal, Turkey edge Czechs to reach Euros last 16 – Sport

GELSENKIRCHEN: Georgia secured a historic place in the kno­c­kout stages of Euro 2024 after a stunning 2-0 win over Por­tugal in Group ‘F’ on Wednesday, while Turkey edged the Czech Republic 2-1 in the same group to advance into the last 16 as the group stage came to an end.

Appearing at their first European Championship, Geo­rgia had to record their first-ever victory at the tournament to reach the last 16 when they played Portugal in Gelsenkirchen.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal had already qualified for the last 16 as Group ‘F’ winners and coach Roberto Martinez made eight changes to his team.

Georgia went ahead inside the opening two minutes thanks to a fine finish from their star player, Napoli winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

Georges Mikautadze, who set up that goal, made it 2-0 from the penalty spot early in the second half to become the competition’s top scorer on three.

It was a frustrating night for Portugal, who were denied on several occasions by Georgia’s impressive goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili.

The 39-year-old Ronaldo, who has a Euros record tally of 14 goals, was left still waiting for his first at this year’s competition.

Georgia, ranked 74th in the world, will now play much-fancied Spain in the next round on Sunday in Cologne, having progressed as one of the four best third-placed sides.

“When you are the small team of the competition […] you know you have nothing to lose […]You have no weight on your shoulders,” Georgia coach Willy Sagnol told reporters. “Today I don’t have a lot of words. I feel very proud to be their manager.”

Georgia’s win also means that England will line up against Slov­akia, Romania take on Nethe­rlands and Portugal face Slovenia in Frankfurt on Monday in the round of 16. Hungary, who had been in contention for a spot in the next round, were edged out.

“It’s still difficult to realise what we have done,” said Sagnol. “I’m so proud of the players because what an image they have shown of Georgia today.”

It is a remarkable achievement for Georgia, the former Soviet Republic which is a candidate for European Union membership but is currently immersed in political turmoil over controversial “foreign influence” legislation.

HAMBURG: Turkey’s Cenk Tosun (obscure) scores past the Czech Republic goalkeeper Matej Kovar during their Group ‘F’ match at the Volksparkstadion.—AFP

Portugal coach Martinez said his side could not match the intensity of their opponents.

“We didn’t underestimate Georgia, but Georgia was playing the game of their history […] and we were playing the last game when we were already top of the group,” he said.

“Today was the day to give other players an opportunity, players that we needed to see how they were doing, players with their own worth. Today I didn’t want to put on Ruben Diaz, Berna­rdo (Silva) or Bruno Fernandes.”

Martinez was full of praise for Georgia.

“They showed an incredible bel­ief,” he said. “I’m sure that sco­­ring early helps, but the biggest surprise was that they were able to maintain the level of belief and intensity for 90 minutes.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Turkey finished second in Group ‘F’ after defeating the Czech Republic in Hamburg, as their opponents were eliminated.

Cenk Tosun’s goal in stoppage time sealed the victory for Turkey, who had been playing with an extra man since the 20th-minute sending-off of Antonin Barak.

Hakan Calhanoglu’s superb strike put Turkey ahead early in the second half before Tomas Soucek levelled for the Czechs, for whom Tomas Chory was also shown red after the final whistle.

“We all fought very well toge­ther,” said Turkey’s Mert Muldur. “We had a hard time aga­i­nst such teams in the past […] I think we have improved ourselves.”

Turkey will play Austria in the last 16 in Leipzig next Tuesday.

“When we talked with our frie­nds before the camp, our only goal was to get out of the group. We kept our promise and left the gro­up. Now we will proceed step by step,” said Turkey winger Baris Alper Yilmaz.

The Czechs finished bottom of the group with one point.

“It is a disappointment because we all wanted to advance,” captain Soucek said, lamenting how the “disrespectful” soft red card had affected the game.

“We were happy to get the equaliser,” he added. “Everyone did the maximum. The morale was huge. Just a sad end […] But that is football.”

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2024

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