Ronaldo's Portugal among the group rivals for debutant Georgia at Euro 2024

AP , Friday 7 Jun 2024

Georgia had to wait more than 30 years to play in a major soccer tournament after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ronaldo
File photo: Portugal s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates at the end of the Euro 2024 group J qualifying soccer match between Portugal and Slovakia at the Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. AP

 

The time has now come at the European Championship — and the republic's reward has been fairly spectacular.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, one of the tournament favorites, await in the group stage for Georgia, the only debutant at these Euros and the latest underdog to take advantage of the tournament having increased to 24 teams since 2016.

Turkey and the Czech Republic are also in Group F, which gets underway on Day 5 of the Euros.

Here is a closer look at the group:

Portugal

Whenever Portugal is in town, the focus invariably falls on Ronaldo and the five-time world player of the year is preparing to take part in his 11th major tournament — and sixth European Championship — at the age of 39.

Time will tell if this is his final chance at another big international trophy, because it might be beyond even Ronaldo to make it to the World Cup in 2026, when he'll be 41.

Roberto Martinez, Portugal coach since January 2023, is putting his faith in Ronaldo to lead the team to a second title in the last three editions of the Euros and is under scrutiny himself after failing to achieve any tangible success with a talented Belgium team as its coach from 2016-22.

Pepe, the 41-year-old center back, is still around but there is a younger element to the team, the pick of whom might be quick winger Rafael Leao.

Watch out, too, for Joao Palhinha, whose tigerish coverage of central midfield gives the creative players ahead of him space to shine.

Georgia

It will be a head-spinning experience for a Georgia squad containing largely unheralded players from teams spread across Europe and — in the case of Atlanta United winger Saba Lobhanidze — the United States.

Two key figures should bring some calm and assurance, though.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is the undoubted superstar of the team, the MVP of the Italian league in Napoli's title-winning season of 2022-23.

The winger is one of Europe’s most exciting attackers and could be using the Euros as a shop window for a potential move this summer.

Then there's Georgia coach Willy Sagnol, who knows Germany well after nine years playing for Bayern Munich and has tournament experience as a player with France, for whom he started the World Cup final in 2006.

Georgian players have been European champions before. Three were in the Soviet Union team that won the inaugural title in 1960.

Turkey 

Turkey went into Euro 2021 with plenty of optimism and wider backing — many pundits called them the tournament “dark horse” — only for the team to be a major flop, losing all three of its games and scoring just one goal.

So there is a wariness around Turkey's chances this time even though the side topped a qualifying group containing recent World Cup semifinalist Croatia and lost only one of its eight games.

Turkey is managed by former Italy and Roma striker Vincenzo Montella, who ended up in the job in September 2023 having been working in Turkish club soccer as coach of Adana Demirspor for the previous two years.

It's in midfield where Monzella has his most exciting talents — captain Hakan Çalhanoğlu, a key player for Italian champion Inter Milan, and Arda Güler, a 19-year-old prodigy at Real Madrid.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has qualified for every European Championship since the country was created in 1993 after the split of Czechoslovakia.

The national team was runner-up to Germany in 1996 and reached the semifinals in 2004. Patrik Schick, a striker for German champion Bayer Leverkusen, is a major star on the Czech team, which should be well-supported with lots of Czechs expected to travel to neighboring Germany.

“I hope that a lot of fans will come to support us and we’ll present good football for them and advance from the group,” Schick said. Led by new coach Ivan Hašek, the team opens against Portugal on June 18 in Leipzig.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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