Kvaratskhelia propels Georgia to last 16 with famous win over Portugal

So, this was the night Georgia advanced to the last 16 in their first appearance at a major tournament courtesy of a magnificent victory over Portugal and one that will live long in the memory of the thousands of supporters who were here to witness history. No wonder Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who got the nation dreaming after scoring inside 92 seconds and afterwards swapped shirts with his childhood hero Cristiano Ronaldo, pined to see the scenes in Tbilisi.

There will be a rich tapestry of lasting images from this win but the sight of Georgia’s substitutes’ bench emptying, reserve goalkeepers Giorgi Loria and Luka Gugeshashvili, too, streaming to mob Georges Mikautadze after his penalty earned a two-goal buffer is hard to top. Guram Kashia looked to the skies, kissed his wrist and beat his chest. Willy Sagnol, wearing a plain white T-shirt, merely clenched his left fist. It is fair to say the celebrations back home will be rather more unrestrained. “This is the best day in the lives of Georgians,” Kvaratskhelia said. “We just made history. Nobody believed we would defeat Portugal but this is why we’re a strong team. We just encourage each other and said that we could do it. Even if there is just a 1% chance, we proved that you can make it happen.”

Related: Turkey into last 16 after late victory seals exit for 10-man Czech Republic

On the basis of the 68-place gulf between them in the Fifa rankings alone, it felt a big ask. Where to start with arguably the greatest underdog story at a European Championship since Wales went deep into the tournament at Euro 2016 or Iceland knocked out England the same summer. It would be easy to linger on the petulance of Ronaldo, who booted a water bottle down the touchline in anger after being withdrawn midway through the second half. But then that would be to ignore the endearing brilliance of this Georgia team; the way they commemorate blocks like victories, the dancing feet of Kvaratskhelia, the brute strength of Kashia, a warrior and a leader. It is not Ronaldo but Mikautadze who is leading the way for the golden boot in Germany. Ronaldo is yet to get off the mark for a Portugal side who will play Slovenia in the last 16. It is the first time in his career Ronaldo has failed to score in the group stage of a major tournament.

Georgia had to win to avoid elimination while Portugal came into the game with a place in the last 16 already boxed off. Roberto Martínez changed nine of his 10 outfield players, Ronaldo the only survivor from their impressive win over Turkey. Diogo Costa remained in goal and with 92 seconds on the clock it was the Portugal goalkeeper who was fishing the ball out of his net.


Martínez conceded his team struggled to cope with Georgia’s intensity and hunger. At the end of the first half Portugal had recorded twice as many touches and 11 shots compared to their opponents’ three. But there was only one that mattered, Kvaratskhelia drilling the ball across Costa and into the far corner to register his first goal at a major tournament. It is a goal that will be replayed for years to come in Georgia but one the right-back António Silva will not want to see in a hurry. Silva played a careless backward pass towards halfway and the moment Mikautadze seized possession, the first time they had done so in the opposition half, he ran towards a wall of noise from the Georgia supporters staring back at him. Mikautadze spied Kvaratskhelia to his left and played the perfect pass, allowing his teammate to do the rest.

A brave and disciplined Georgia were intent on upsetting Portugal. Kashia nicked the ball from Ronaldo to huge cheers and soon afterwards Georgia dispossessed João Félix before playing their own neat triangles. Any time the ball was within a five-metre radius of Kvaratskhelia the noise was deafening from the Georgia supporters. Ronaldo was booked for dissent after airing his anger at the Swiss referee, Sandro Schäfer, for failing to penalise the Georgia defender Luka Lochoshvili for getting touch-tight. He fumed as Pedro Neto was booked for diving on the verge of half-time. He saw a shot superbly blocked by Giorgi Gvelesiani and another by Lasha Dvali early in the second half. No matter how much they believed, Georgia probably never envisaged the sight of Ronaldo playing ballboy in a bid to restart the action and fashion an equaliser.

Diogo Dalot forced a phenomenal left-hand save from Giorgi Marmardashvili, again superb in the Georgia goal, but then the referee pressed pause as the VAR reviewed Lochoshvili’s fall inside the box at the start of the phase of play. The referee headed to the pitchside VAR monitor and then pointed to the penalty spot, confirming Silva, who was later withdrawn alongside Ronaldo, swiped at the midfielder. Mikautadze sidefooted his spot-kick into the corner and while Costa went the right way, neither he nor Portugal were a match for Georgia.