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Georgia's Euro 2024 debut 'not only about football' as historic participation reignites EU hopes

Georgia's Giorgi Kochorashvili after scoring a penalty against Greece in Tbilisi, Georgia, Tuesday, March 26, 2024
Georgia's Giorgi Kochorashvili after scoring a penalty against Greece in Tbilisi, Georgia, Tuesday, March 26, 2024 Copyright AP/Tamuna Kulumbegashvili
Copyright AP/Tamuna Kulumbegashvili
By Alessio Dell'Anna
Published on
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Georgia will face Turkey at 6 pm CET in a historic game that's expected to bring the country together after months of social unrest.

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Georgia is counting the minutes towards its debut in a major football tournament as it prepares to take on neighbouring Turkey in the first game of Group F at Euro 2024.

The country of 3.7 million people nested in the Caucasus earned its spot at Europe's biggest football tournament after a heartstopping playoff against Greece and is now abuzz with football fever.

"This is a very important day for Georgia", said Euronews Georgia reporter Giorgi Sanaze. "It's a dream for us to be at the Euros, everybody is really excited."

Georgia's undisputed leader is Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The 23-year-old winger scored 15 goals in 30 national team appearances and was crucial in securing Italy's Napoli a historic third Serie A title in the 2022-23 season.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in action against Greece in the Euro 2024 play off match held in Tbilisi on March 26, 2024
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in action against Greece in the Euro 2024 play off match held in Tbilisi on March 26, 2024AP/Tamuna Kulumbegashvili
Overjoyed Georgian football fans after the team reached Euro 2024 qualification on 26 March 2024 in Tbilisi
Overjoyed Georgian football fans after the team reached Euro 2024 qualification on 26 March 2024 in TbilisiAP/Tamuna Kulumbegashvili

A moment of hope in times of social chaos

Georgians hope Euro 2024 will bring some joy and relief to the nation after months of political and social turmoil sparked by the approval of a controversial "foreign agent" bill.

The law was likened to similar Kremlin legislation as it tightened checks on NGOs getting at least 20% of their funds from abroad, prompting protests, clashes and arrests.

"It was an amazing feeling when we qualified, the streets were full of people and Georgian flags, and everybody was celebrating", said Sanaze. "But immediately after, we plunged into the chaos of the protests in Tbilisi and all across Georgia".

"A few national team members, such as Budu Zivzivadze and Giorgi Kochorashvili, came out to publicly hit out at the government, while those who remained neutral received criticism."

A woman in tears following the approval of the foreign agent law at the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi on May 28 2024
A woman in tears following the approval of the foreign agent law at the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi on May 28 2024AP/Zurab Tsertsvadze

'Being at the Euros is being closer to Europe'

Georgia has celebrated the much-anticipated event by releasing special coins and stamps.

In a huge show of love, a fan rode his motorbike for 4,000 kilometres over 12 days to deliver a giant Georgian flag covered in messages of support to the team's training camp in Velbert on Saturday.

As Georgia remains an EU candidate member, Sanaze explained the Euros participation is not just about football.

"It makes us feel closer to the European community, somehow. And if sports unites all people, then it can do a lot of good in politics too".

"Like Jurgen Klopp once said, football's job is to make people forget about their worries for ninety minutes. We hope our football team will do it for us too".

🛵🇬🇪 დღევანდელი ვარჯიშის დაწყებამდე განსაკუთრებული სტუმარი გვეწვია. შადიმან ხარშილაძემ 12 დღეში 4000 კილომეტრი მოპედით...

Posted by ეროვნული ნაკრები on Saturday, June 15, 2024
Georgian football fan Shadiman Kharshiladze hand a huge flag of his country to the national team players
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