Crusaders make debut at a major tourney


Hard at work: Georgia players warming up during a training session. — AP

DORTMUND: Georgia make their debut at a major tournament when the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people plays Turkiye in Group F at the European Championship.

The other teams in the group are Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Georgia, also known as the Crusaders, are the only debutant at Euro 2024, though they still have a pedigree at the tournament. Three Georgian players were in the Soviet Union team that won the inaugural title in 1960. The country has celebrated the national team being on the big stage for the first time by releasing commemorative stamps and putting special coins in circulation for the occasion.

Expect them to rely heavily on Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, the undoubted superstar of the team after his exploits for Napoli over the last two seasons – including winning the MVP in their Serie A title-winning season of 2022-2023.

Kvaratskhelia, who is aged 23, has scored 15 goals in 30 games for Georgia.

Georgia coach Willy Sagnol has been working with “almost a full complement” of players at the team’s training camp in Austria before heading to Germany, the country’s football federation said. No specific injuries have been disclosed.

Georgia have one squad member who plays in the United States – Atlanta United winger Saba Lobhanidze.

A moped driver travelled 4,000km over 12 days to deliver a Georgian flag covered in messages of support from people back home to the team at their training base in Germany on Saturday.

“We all need to try to create another miracle and reward our supporters with more beautiful days.” said Georgia midfielder Nika Kvekveskiri.

Their opponents Turkiye were many pundits’ highly fancied outsiders at the last Euros but flopped, losing all three of their group games and scoring just one goal. The national team have gone more under the radar this time, despite topping a qualifying group containing Croatia.

Arda Guler, a 19-year-old playmaker at Real Madrid, is set to be the beating heart of Turkiye’s team for the first time at a major tournament – and is expected to star for the national team for years. Irfan Can Kahveci and Cenk Tosun have been training separately ahead of the game while defender Ozan Kabak was ruled out of the tournament after sustaining an ACL injury in the warm-up games.

Former Italy striker Vincenzo Montella is Turkiye’s coach, somewhat by accident. He ended up in the job in September 2023 having been working in Turkish club as coach of Adana Demirspor for the previous two years. — AP

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Football , Euro 2024 , Georgia

   

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