EURO Story by Georgia

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Georgia defeated Portugal 2-0, securing a place in the round of 16 at Euro 2024. Their victory marks the country's biggest football triumph to date in the history of independent Georgia.

This unexpected win surprised many outside of this Eastern European country, as Georgia was considered an underdog at the tournament, ranked 74th by FIFA while Portugal, one of the Euro 2024 favourites, is the only top squad to have lost to a non-top team. Before 26 June 2024, Georgia was the most underrated team at EURO 2024, leading some football legends to complain about their debut. The victory led to widespread praise and Le Figaro labelled Georgia as the "Cinderella" of the tournament. Well-wishers from different countries rushed to comment online. These new fans from around the world are now hoping to see Georgia replicate Greece's surprising run in the UEFA European Championship in 2004, or enjoy a similar stunning run at Qatar 2022 Morocco performed, beating both Portugal and Spain. Of course, each squad goes on the pitch to win. Still, Georgia has a complicated, very typical Georgian goal. I shall try to explain that.


"Football King and Football Prince". Credit to UEFA
"Football King and Football Prince". Credit: UEFA


The initial mission is complete, but most of the Georgia fans know that securing third place in Group F was not the original goal. It was a brilliant game that ended with a stunning victory from a debutant, but the hope was to reach second place in their group to avoid further clashes with favourites such as Spain, Germany, and France. Also, the squad would not have a shorter rest period lacking two days to prepare, unlike others. However, tough tasks have been destined for Georgia, both as a country and as a football squad. The fans who believed Georgia would win, but did not quite expect the victory to come true in such a stunningly brilliant game, are now trying to get tickets for 30 June.


Willy Sagnol, the manager, after the marvellous victory tonight. Screengrab from UEFA
Willy Sagnol, the manager, after the marvellous victory tonight. Screengrab from UEFA


The victory is never guaranteed, even when it is well-deserved. This is what Georgia learned the hard way, and that was the lesson they learned playing against Türkiye and Czechia this June. Football is a game where anything can happen. This squad plays for the love of football and a greater love for their homeland, which is an advantage hardly any other squads have in EURO 2024, apart from Ukraine.

“Georgia, where have you been until now?” the Portuguese newspaper asked the question. There is an answer to that.

The fact is that Euro 2024 is not Georgia’s first appearance at the tournament. Technically, Georgia is the first squad to win the very first Euro. This sounds unbelievable but here are the facts and we let Europe decide whether to share the Georgian point of view.

In 1960, USSR achieved the first place in Paris. Among the Russian players, the squad had one Ukrainian Yuriy Voynov and four Georgian footballers who brought that victory: three Georgian forwards – Mikheil Meskhi, 23, Dinamo Tbilisi; Zaur Kaloevi, 29, Dinamo Tbilisi; Slava Metreveli, 24, Torpedo Moscow – and one defence player Givi Chokheli, 23, Dinamo Tbilisi. Back in the 1960s they all were credited as “Soviets” which meant “a citizen of the former Soviet Union” while they were Georgians and citizens of the Soviet Republic of Georgia. These players were crucial to the victory of the USSR in Euro 1960.

While UEFA states the 1960 winner as “Russia” it should be either "USSR" or "Russia and Georgia" squad. The four Georgian footballers were badly needed in the USSR team, otherwise, the Russians would happily leave them behind as they had done a few times before and after. The real historical relationship between Russia and Georgia is told at the bottom of this page and the facts shed light on the true contribution of the Georgian players to the 1960 EURO competition, marking the beginning of Georgian football's story.

In 1968, four other Georgian footballers played a crucial role in the USSR squad's 4th place finish, including midfielders Murtaz Khurtsilava, 25, and Kakhi Asatiani, 21, from Dinamo Tbilisi; forward Givi Nodia, 20, Dinamo Tbilisi; and goalkeeper Anzor Kavazashvili, 27, Torpedo Moscow.

In 1972, the USSR squad secured second place with three outstanding Georgian players: midfielder Murtaz Khurtsilava, 29, as the USSR Captain, forward Givi Nodia, 24, and defender Revaz Dzodzuashvili, 27, all from FC Dinamo Tbilisi.

These facts and stats are from the UEFA website and can be verified. Easy to check. Hard to believe. But maybe not that hard after their last three games this June? These are things discussed and written a lot but mostly, only in Georgian.

During the Soviet Occupation, national squads from Soviet republics could not play internationally, so the USSR team was the only opportunity for players to showcase their skills. Many Georgian footballers played a significant role in the united team's achievements. Therefore, the USSR squad was as much Georgian as it was Russian in those games.

The national squad of Georgia technically existed as FC Dinamo Tbilisi, where only local footballers played. On 13 May 1981, FC Dinamo Tbilisi became the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Winner.

The game tonight was a significant moment in Georgia's football history as the national team emerged victorious. This achievement didn't come as a surprise to Georgian football fans. It was just another chapter in their football legacy that began 64 years ago. These young Georgian players were nurtured in the Dinamo Tbilisi Academy, carrying on the proud heritage of their predecessors who were less fortunate to be able to celebrate their victories with their anthem, flag, and language. However, after every win, the Georgia players returned home to a heartfelt welcome, reflecting the similar appreciation and love seen on social media throughout Georgia tonight. They were proud Georgians, dedicated to representing their homeland, rather than the USSR – the Empire of Evil. The world did not know yet, but Georgia never had any doubts about their ethnicity and national identity under the Soviet occupation.

Football has always been more than just a game in Georgia. It's been a classy way for them to fight for their independence and identity. Tonight was no different: Georgia wanted to showcase their love and skills, hoping to make Europe take notice of who they are. The answer is clear: Georgia is a small country with great importance, much like a diamond. That is why they shone and will always shine, and all Europe needs to do is watch and enjoy them. Georgia promised to play good football and will do their best to win if given the chance.

And now, the said piece of history that the world needs to know.

The annexation of the Kingdom of Georgia by the Russian Empire took sixty years, between 1801 and 1861. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Republic of Georgia regained its independence with the help of Germany and later received support from Britain and France. However, the Soviet Regime reoccupied the country in February-March 1921 for the next 70 years. Throughout those years, the Georgian people never surrendered willingly or without resistance, with serious plots or rebellions occurring every ten years to strive for freedom and state independence.

In 1991, Georgia finally regained independence, but not without struggle. Major demonstrations in the autumn of 1988 culminated on April 9, 1989, when locals were attacked by the Russian Army and special forces, resulting in the deaths of 21 innocent civilians, including three minor females. Many others received life-changing injuries. The tragedy could have resulted in more casualties if not for the actions of the 250 Georgian police officers who secured the safe passage for protesters to escape when attacked by 1300 Russian soldiers on each side of Rustaveli Avenue.

The Georgian protesters gathered in front of the House of Government with small crosses and tiny lit candles. They prayed, sang, and some of them danced to warm up in the chill of the night. Meanwhile, heavily armed occupational military units were instructed to prevent any locals from escaping the territory. As a result of the severe operation, 90 Russian soldiers and dozens of Georgian policemen were also injured.

Independent Georgia has faced two wars against Russia in the regions of Abkhazia and Samachablo, with the Tbilisi War being planned and caused by Russia in between. This history provides insight into the strained relationship between Georgia and its northern neighbour.

In 1958, Sergo Kotrikadze made his debut as a goalkeeper for FC Dinamo Tbilisi. The legendary Boris Paichadze advised him to always remember that he was not only protecting Dinamo's goal but also the Darial Gate. The Darial Gorge is a river gorge located on the border between Russia and Georgia. Historically, the Darial Gate was a narrow passage through the Caucasus where enemy forces could invade Georgia from the North. For Georgians, the term "Darial" has become a symbol of homeland protection. In 2024, Giorgi Mamardashvili is defending the "Darial" goal at the Euro 2024.

So, this is the answer to the question of where Georgia was all this time: Amid the political challenges, the country has continued to fight for its independence and freedom, while also embracing football. Another remarkable Georgia squad from the 1990s, the former Georgian footballers, sat among the fans tonight. This is the first generation of footballers in independent Georgia who paved the way for the current national football team towards Euro 2024.

P.S. The only Portuguese who should not feel unsatisfied with tonight’s outcome must be Cristiano Ronaldo, and here is a solid reason why. In 2013, the most decorated footballer of all time visited the Dinamo Tbilisi Academy opening and met with the young Georgian players – including Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Giorgi Chakhvetadze, Zuriko Davitashvili, Giorgi Kochorashvili, and Anzor Mekvabishvili – who wished to become like their football icon, Ronaldo. Tonight, those Georgian kids, who have grown while working hard on the necessary skills, kept their promise to their role model. Therefore, the great Portuguese footballer rightfully shares their recent glory.

Georgia supporters, by Mavani (23 June 2024)