Soccer-Battling Georgia win hearts but no points in Euro debut

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group F - Turkey v Georgia - Dortmund BVB Stadion, Dortmund, Germany - June 18, 2024 Turkey's Arda Guler and Orkun Kokcu celebrate a goal that was later disallowed REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

DORTMUND, Germany (Reuters) - Georgia lost on their debut on the big stage but won soccer fans' hearts with a never-say-die display in a 3-1 defeat to Turkey in their Euro 2024 opener on Tuesday that could easily have finished in a draw for the underdogs.

In the dying seconds of arguably the tournament's most exciting match so far, Georgia struck a post and had their opponents pinned back, only to see Turkey substitute Kerem Akturkoglu break away, charge down the field and roll the ball into an empty net to guarantee the win.

Supporters and commentators watching around the world were left on a high at the final whistle.

"Hats off to Turkey and Georgia," former Liverpool striker and pundit Stan Collymore wrote on X. "No quarter given or asked, technical quality, passion and pride, attacking each other for 97 minutes. How fun was that!!"

The result was harsh on Georgia, who upset the odds to qualify for the European Championship by knocking out former champions Greece in a playoff in March under the leadership of coach Willy Sagnol, the former Bayern Munich and France full back.

Looking nervous early on as Turkey's fans deafeningly whistled their every move, Georgia went behind to a fine strike by Turkey full back Mert Muldur in the 25th minute. But the setback seemed to shock them into action, and it took them only seven minutes to equalise through Georges Mikautadze.

The striker, who looks set to leave French side Metz this summer, should have bagged a second shortly afterwards and Georgia finished the first half looking the stronger side.

Another superb strike by Turkey - this time by Real Madrid teenager Arda Guler - only served to raise Georgia's game again with Giorgi Kochorashvili, who plays for Levante in Spain, jinking through Turkey's defence before hitting the bar.

Buoyed by their belief, Sagnol's players poured forward. In time added on, Kochorashvili shot wide from close range and Turkey's Samet Akaydin somehow got his head to Budu Zivzivadze's goal-bound shot seconds after Georgia had struck the woodwork.

Turkey - who crashed out of Euro 2020 by losing all three group-stage games - leave Dortmund with hopes high and their fans elated by the performance of Guler and fellow teenage attacker Kenan Yildiz.

But Georgia too will take confidence from their part in Tuesday's thriller in Group F as they prepare to face the Czech Republic on Saturday and Portugal a week on Wednesday.

"We hoped for a better start but I am proud of my players," coach Sagnol told Turkish television. "We are learning fast and becoming better as a team."

(Reporting by William Schomberg; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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