Georgia makes wild start to international tournament soccer in feisty loss to Turkey

By News Agency , Agency
Published at 05:18 AM Jun 20 2024
Georgia fans hold scarves during the national anthems ahead of a Group F match against Turkey at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.
Photo: AP
Georgia fans hold scarves during the national anthems ahead of a Group F match against Turkey at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

A PRE-MATCH brawl. A multi-pass team goal of which peak Barcelona would be proud. A match widely regarded as an instant classic.

Georgia made quite the entrance to international tournament soccer on Tuesday.

The 3-1 loss to Turkey in the European Championship was a thrilling watch from start to finish, with the result failing to dampen the spirits of a national team and its boisterous fans who had been waiting for this day for more than 30 years.

“When you lose, it’s never nice,” Georgia’s French coach Willy Sagnol said, “but I think for my team and I, the most important thing was something else. We have given a nice image of Georgian football.”

That wasn’t necessarily the case as fighting broke out between fans from both countries inside Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion about 90 minutes before kickoff. Punches and objects were thrown as stewards struggled to separate the angry supporters before police officers in riot gear arrived.

After that, though, Georgia put on a show — initially of defiance after an intense start by Turkey and then of skill and heart as Sagnol’s team fought its way back into a match played at frantic pace and an end-to-end basketball-style feel.

Ultimately, Georgia was undone by two excellently taken goals — notably one by Real Madrid attacker Arda Guler that regained the lead for Turkey at 2-1 in the 65th and then a third late in stoppage time when Georgia’s goalkeeper was stranded upfield.

But whatever happens in upcoming matches against the Czech Republic and Portugal, the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people — which was declared independent of the Soviet Union in 1991 — will always have that 32nd-minute goal by Georges Mikautadze that featured dozens of passes. It would have been celebrated wildly back home, where Georgians could forget briefly about the protests and political turmoil they have been living through.

“I think we should always look at the bigger picture,” Sagnol said. “This European Championship is arriving after so many years of great development in Georgian football. The federation in the last 10 years has done so many good things so children can play … this European Championship is a reward for that.

“I’m very proud to be part of this very nice moment.”

As a former Bayern Munich player, Sagnol hated saying it but playing the match in Westfalenstadion — the home of Bayern’s big Bundesliga rival, Borussia Dortmund — made for the most spine-tingling and memorable atmosphere.

Georgia’s players initially struggled to cope with deafening jeers every time they touched the ball. But they grew into the game and, by the end, didn’t look like the world’s No. 75-ranked team.

“We were playing today in one of most fantastic stadiums in the world — a stadium made for football and emotions,” Sagnol said. “For a lot of my players, it was something new.

“The only thing I regret was when the Turkey fans booed our national anthem. It didn’t give a good image of Turkey at that moment. But the match and the atmosphere did fit together.”

Sagnol said his team would benefit from this exposure to elite soccer. The Czechs are next this weekend.

“Georgia is still in a very important stage of development,” he said. “Competitions like this should help the players, the staff, the federation to be stronger in the future.

“I can tell you already, on Saturday I’m convinced we will produce the same kind of performance.”