Football Features

Greece 2.0? Georgia shock Portugal in Group F to seal last 16 date with Spain

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:12, 26 June 2024

And there we have it, the Euro 2024 group stage is over, with Group F rounding off the action.

Portugal had already had top spot wrapped up after two games, but it was all to play for for the final one — or potentially two – knockout spots. Turkey, Georgia and Czech Republic could all still qualify, in a group that would also have the last say on the makeup of the round of 16.

So, what happened?

Problems shown in Portugal’s squad depth

Portugal went into their final group game knowing they couldn’t drop from top spot, so Roberto Martinez rung the changes. Eight were made in total from the starting XI that beat Turkey at the weekend, with Martinez hoping to keep things fresh and perhaps assess what the rest of his squad could do.

One of the players to come in was Antonio Silva, a bright star of Benfica’s defence and expected to be part of Portugal’s backline for years to come. But he was at the heart of a Portugal defence that struggled, and a lot of focus was on Silva.

It was Silva who gave the ball away inside 90 seconds in the move that led to Georgia going 1-0 up, unable to keep up with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia as he bore down on goal. Silva also gave away the penalty for Georgia’s second, fouling Luka Lochoshvili in the box. There was a touch of misfortune about that one, as it was awarded after a VAR check and could really have gone either way. But it summed up Portugal’s night.

Up front, Joao Felix looked good until it got to the key areas, completed just one of his six attempted take-ons and hitting the target with one of his two shots.

The result also meant that Portugal have once again failed to win all three group stages at a single European Championship, only managing to do so once previously at Euro 2000.

On the night, Portugal had 22 shots in total, with 13 of their 16 players used having at last one — only Diogo Costa, Pedro Neto and Ruben Neves failed to have an effort. But they hit the target just five times.

Georgia to win Euro 2024?

What a result for Georgia. They went into their final game against Portugal knowing a win would see them in the last 16. But no one expected them to get it.

Willy Sagnol set up his side to counter Portugal, understanding the difference in quality between the two nations, even with a rotated nation. And it worked perfectly. The duo of Kvaratskhelia and Georges Mikautadze were deadly on the break, combining for the opening goal.

It was the quickest goal Portugal have ever conceded at a European Championship, while also making Mikautadze the first player to score or assist in each of his first three games at the European Championship since Gareth Bale for Wales in 2016. And he wasn’t done there.

Mikautadze was the man to score from the spot, adding to goals against Turkey and Czech Republic. He’s just the ninth player to score in all three group matches at a single European Championship tournament, joining Michel Platini in 1984, Alan Shearer and Hristo Stoichkov in 1996, Savo Milosevic in 2000, Milan Baros and Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004, Bale in 2016 and Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2020.

He sits alone atop the Golden Boot race as the first player to hit three goals at Euro 2024. And there’s a bit of an omen for Georgia.

Georgia are just the second European side to get their first win at a World Cup/European Championship against Portugal. The first side? Greece in 2004, beating Portugal en route to winning the European Championship.

Turkey banish Euro 2020 blues

Three years ago Turkey were everyone’s dark horses for Euro 2020, boasting an interesting squad having pushed France close in their qualifying group. But to say they underwhelmed would be an understatement.

Not only did Turkey finish bottom of their group, but they also finished without a point. Italy, Wales and Switzerland all beat Turkey, who also managed to score just one goal in their final game.

Fast forward three years and those demons have been exorcised. Turkey won two of their three group games to finish second, only below Georgia on their head-to-head record.

They opened the tournament with a 3-1 victory over Georgia, which they knew put them in a good position. That’s why they rotated heavily for their middle game against Portugal, knowing the odds were against them anyway. It allowed Turkey to be fresh for their final game against Czech Republic, which proved vital in the end.

The game lacked quality in front of goal at times, but Hakan Calhanoglu showed it from the Turkish side with a wonderful strike to put them 1-0 up. Although Tomas Soucek equalised, Turkey sat back and trusted their defensive quality to withhold the Czech attack while waiting for the counter. And that’s where Cenk Tosun’s killer goal came from deep into injury time.

What has happened to goalscorers?

There are so many big-name goalscorers at Euro 2024. But hardly any of them have scored. Harry Kane has scored once from open play, while Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe both needed penalties to break their duck.

But both Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo blanked in the group stage, the latter frustrated as part of Portugal’s attack against Georgia.

He wasn’t without his chances either. Ronaldo have three shots in his 66 minutes on the pitch, the joint-most among his Portugal teammates. But they came with an xG of 0.21 and only one hit the target. An effort from inside the six yard pass deflected over the bar in the opening minutes of the second half summed up Ronaldo’s night and tournament.

Ronaldo has had more shots than any other player at Euro 2024 with 12, hitting the target five times. But he will have more chances to break his duck in the knockout stages.

Czech Republic’s struggles continue

Someone had to go out from Group F and unfortunately it was Czech Republic. They didn’t make things easy for themselves, with Antonin Barak sent off for two yellow cards early on.

It was the earliest dismissal for a player to start a match at the European Championship, coming after just 20 minutes. It gave Czech Republic a mountain to climb and in the end their energy levels failed them.

They were outshot by Turkey, though did have more efforts on target with better xG. But they had less possession, completed over half the passes that Turkey did and had fewer touches in the opposition box.

In the end, Czech Republic finished with just one point from their draw against Georgia, extending their winless run at the European Championship to four matches.