SoccerMatch Report

Turkey beat Georgia in a Euro 2024 match of feverish, hysterical chaos

Joyous occasion as the teams ran back and forth like lunatics, responding in kind to an extraordinary atmosphere

Arda Guler of Turkiye scores his team's second goal. Photograph: Image Photo Agency/Getty
Euro 2024 Group F: Turkey 3 Georgia 1

There are some games when everything just comes together. Thunder and lightning over the most famous stadium in Germany, two sets of fans for whom the match seemed to mean everything, and two teams who responded to the extraordinary atmosphere by producing an extraordinary match.

When Jurgen Klopp was still the manager here in Dortmund he once said his ideal game was “fighting football, what we call in German “English”, rainy day, heavy pitch, 5-5, everybody is dirty in the face and goes home and cannot play for four weeks.”

There was nothing “English” about this game, if by English we mean the kind of football we see in today’s Premier League. This was feverish hysterical chaos, two rain-drenched teams throwing everything at each other, a thunderstorm lit up with flashes of dazzling technique.

Two sensational strikes from Kaan Ayhan and Arda Güler won the match for Turkey but the heroic way Georgia performed in their first ever appearance in an international tournament will give them the thirst for more. Willy Sagnol’s team were outgunned but they were never outfought.

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It was also a first of sorts for Turkey – their first tournament match in Germany, after they failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. With three million people of Turkish descent in Germany, it was effectively a Turkey home game. Eighty per cent of the stadium was red.

No other fans create such a wall of noise, both for their team and against the opposition. They drowned out the Georgian anthem and though the Georgians no doubt tried to return the compliment during the Turkish anthem, it was impossible to hear them.

A continuous roar accompanied Turkish possession, which during the brief Georgian interludes became a continuous whistling jeer. You almost felt sorry for the poor Georgian right-wing-back Otar Kakabadze when he got his first touch after just a couple of minutes. As he tried to control the ball he was hit with a barrage of whistles that could crack concrete. He bumbled it out of play to a roar of derision.

The action on the pitch initially seemed to be obeying the collective will of the Turkish fans, as their players were overwhelming Georgia all over the pitch. On 10 minutes they came within millimetres of taking the lead, as Kaan Ayhan smashed a 20-yarder that cannoned off the base of the post and bounced across goal and out for a goal kick. Four minutes later the young Juventus star Yilmaz cut in from the left and smashed a shot from a narrow angle at Mamardashvili.

Georgia were clinging on as best they could, Willy Sagnol a notably interventionist presence on the sideline, shouting and gesticulating instructions to the players. Who knows how he was making himself heard over the racket but the verbals were accompanied by complex hand gestures that seemed to do the trick.

There was nothing Sagnol could do about the stunning goal with which Turkey took the lead. A cross from the left was headed to the edge of the penalty area to the onrushing Turkish right-back Mert Muldur, who smashed a volley into the near top corner.

Two minutes later Turkey had the ball in the net again, but Kenan Yildiz was ruled offside after tapping in at the end of a sweeping move. It looked like Georgia were sinking. Instead, four minutes later, they were level.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is the undoubted star and the outstanding talent of the Georgian team, but the 24 year old Levante midfielder Giorgi Kochorashvili was his side’s best player in this game and it was his ingenuity and persistence that created the goal.

Receiving the ball in the right channel with apparently nothing on, he evaded three defenders to infiltrate the right side of the box, turning this way, then that, before firing over a low cross which was stabbed at goal first-time by the centre-forward Georges Mikautadzes.

There was a dramatic half-instant of what seemed like total silence before everyone simultaneously realised the low shot had beaten Mert Günok and squeezed inside the near post, before the Georgian fans behind that goal exploded.

A minute later the euphoric Georgians almost took a sensational lead, carving Turkey apart with a sequence of one-touch passes before Mikautadze shot just wide of the far post.

The rest of that half was joyous as the teams ran back and forth like lunatics. Patience? Tactics? Not in front of a crowd like this. You had to remind yourself this was the first group game of three. It looked and sounded as though everyone was playing for their lives.

The match-winning moment eventually came on 65 minutes, Ayhan put in a tackle and it broke to the young Real Madrid player Arda Güler, 30 yards out in the right channel, with ten yards of space between him and the defenders. Güler took a touch to set it and the defenders moved to close the distance, but it was already too late. The shot sailed beautifully into the far top corner.

Georgia hit the post late but, exhausted by the effort they had already put in, were unable to force a goal. In the 97th minute, Georgia’s keeper Mamardishvili advanced into the Turkish box corner, but his opposite number Günok punched the ball clear.

Sandro Altunashvili picked up the loose ball in midfield but he was immediately stormed by Guram Kashia and Kerem Aktürkoğlu. The latter ran the length of the pitch with 50,000 Turkish fans roaring him on before passing it into the empty Georgian net.

Sending the keeper up was a bad calculation from Georgia, who lost a goal that could prove crucial in the third place rankings. But it wasn’t a calculations kind of day.

Ken Early

Ken Early

Ken Early is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in soccer