Georgia advances to Euro 2024 for team’s first major tournament by beating Greece in a penalty shootout

Georgia and star forward Khvicha Kvaratskhelia are going to their first major tournament after beating Greece in a penalty shootout following a 0-0 draw in their European Championship qualifying playoff on Tuesday.

Nika Kvekveskiri placed a decisive spot-kick low into the corner to seal Georgia’s 4-2 win in the shootout. Greece captain Tasos Bakasetas had his opening penalty saved by goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili then Giorgos Giakoumakis pulled his shot wide of the goal.

Kvaratskhelia, the talismanic Napoli winger known as “Kvaradona” to its fans, was watching from the sidelines after being substituted off in the second half of extra time.

Fans from the crowd of 50,000 at the national stadium in Tbilisi poured onto the field to celebrate and some climbed the goalposts to sit on the crossbar.

Georgia will be a low-ranked outsider in the 24-team Euro 2024 lineup in Germany going into Group F with Portugal, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

In the playoff finals later Tuesday, Wales was hosting Poland and Ukraine was playing Iceland with places at Euro 2024 at stake. Ukraine was the “home” team in Wroclaw, Poland, for security reasons during the Russian military invasion.

It was Georgia’s eighth attempt to qualify for the European Championship as an independent nation since the Soviet Union broke up. Georgian players from Dinamo Tbilisi were key to a high-class Soviet Union team that went to the 1982 World Cup.

At Euro 2024, Georgia will start against Turkey on June 18 in Dortmund, then play the Czechs on June 22 in Hamburg, and finish against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on June 26 in Gelsenkirchen, at the home stadium of Schalke.

Georgia coach Willy Sagnol played most of his career in Germany with Bayern Munich, and in the previous major tournament final staged in Berlin. Sagnol was right back in the France team that lost the 2006 World Cup final on penalties to Italy.

In Tbilisi on Tuesday, a tight, testy game of few chances burst into life in extra time toward the end of the first period.

Greece struck the crossbar from a header by Konstantinos Mavropanos in the 102nd then needed goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos to save a sharp, low shot from Georgia substitute Zuriko Davitashvili who had just come on the field.

The Greek defense targeted Kvaratskhelia for rough treatment — yellow cards were shown to Mavropanos and George Baldock for first-half fouls.

When tempers flared into a confrontation involving both benches, 2022 World Cup final referee Szymon Marciniak showed a red card to Georgia backup goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.

Regulation time finished with Kvaratskhelia’s free kick blocked after another yellow card foul on him to stop a fast break.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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