Thursday, July 25, 2024

The Numbers Game: Can Georgia´s dream run continue at Euro 2024?

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 28 Jun 2024

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Following the conclusion of the Euro 2024 group stages, Spain remain the only team to win all their games ahead of their last-16 tie against Georgia in Cologne.

La Roja ended their group campaign with a 1-0 victory over Albania that featured a much-changed side, with Ferran Torres’ early strike enough to secure the win.

However, they will face a Georgia side brimming with self-belief after their maiden triumph at a major international tournament over Portugal last time out.

Willy Sagnol’s side have captured the hearts of football fans across the world, but know the enormity of the task ahead of them, with these teams having played against each other during qualifying.

Many expect Spain to maintain their winning start at Euro 2024, but as this tournament has proved already, anything can happen.

Here, we use Opta data to preview Sunday’s clash.

What’s expected?

Spain are expected to win this one, with the Opta supercomputer handing them a dominant 75% chance of getting the job done in Cologne.

Georgia triumphed in just 10.7% in the data-led simulations, with a draw forecast slightly higher at 14.3%.

This will be Spain’s eighth meeting with Georgia, but their first at a major tournament. La Roja have won six of their seven matches against the minnows in all competitions, all of which have been since 2012.

Spain won both qualifying games by an aggregate score of 10-2 (7-1 away, 3-1 home), but the tournament version of Georgia could present a much sterner test.

And Luis de la Fuente’s team must approach with caution, as Spain’s recent record in the knockout stages has been far from impressive.

They were eliminated in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup and 2022 World Cup, losing on penalties to Russia and Monaco respectively, though they did reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020.

With much of the spotlight on Spain’s attack, their defence has impressed and they are yet to concede a goal in Germany. The last time they managed to keep four consecutive clean sheets at a major tournament was back in 2012 (a run of five) – the last time they claimed silverware.

Spain’s vibrant attackers are also set to come up against the tournament’s in-form goalkeeper.

Georgia’s Giorgi Mamardashvili, who plays for Valencia, has saved 16 of the last 17 shots on target he has faced at Euro 2024, and he could be in for another busy day.

Willy Sagnol’s side faced the most shots (71), most on target (25), and had the highest xG conceded (8.1) of any nation in the group stage, with the only side to face more than 71 shots in the group stage of a Euros being Latvia in 2004 (86).

However, Georgia’s performances in Group F have given them the confidence to be fearless against the three-time European Champions. A win will see them become the fourth team since the quarter-finals were introduced to reach that stage in their first Euros.

Spain’s depth of quality

Riding the crest of a new wave of emerging talent, Spain are back among the best teams in world football, with Luis Enrique’s possession obsession having gone stale.

De la Fuente made 10 changes against Albania, and their strength in depth, which has lacked in major tournaments gone by, is definitely a key quality.

Torres, for example, scored the only goal against Albania and has now seen him directly involved in seven goals across nine appearances for Spain under De la Fuente (five goals, two assists), with no Spain player being involved in more goals under him, but the Barcelona forward is unlikely to start on Sunday.

Dani Olmo provided his fourth assist at the European Championship finals on what was his seventh such appearance, with only Cesc Fabregas providing more for Spain in the competition since records began in 1964 (five), but he too has had to settle for a back-up role in Germany.

And finally, Alex Grimaldo created five chances against Albania, the most of any Spanish defender in a single match at a major tournament on record (since 1980). Yet Marc Cucurella was preferred at left-back in the first two matches.

It is likely that a more familiar Spanish side will take to the pitch, but the head coach will have confidence in his bench players to make an impact, should they be needed.

Attack is the best form of defence for Georgia

Georgia are under no illusions that they must upset the odds to keep their fairytale run at Euro 2024 alive, but getting on the front foot early, as they did against Portugal, seems to be their best hope.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s goal after 01:32 is the earliest Portugal has ever conceded in the competition, and another Georgian will be hard pressed to break what is now a national record at a major tournament.

Georges Mikautadze’s penalty ensured Georgia inflicted the Selecao’s first competitive defeat under coach Roberto Martínez.

They became the first European nation to qualify from the group stage in their first major tournament since Iceland at Euro 2016 and have the attacking talent to continue their journey.

Kvaratskhelia proved a considerable thorn in Portugal’s side during their encounter, registering the joint-most shots (three) of anyone on the pitch while leading the way in shots on target (two) and touches in the opposition box (four) for Georgia.

On the other hand, they conceded 22 shots and had just 27.6% possession, but showcased their clinical nature, outperforming their expected goals (xG) by 0.35.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Spain – Lamine Yamal

At 17, Lamine Yamal has taken to his first major tournament like a seasoned professional as he continues to impress on the international stage.

Yamal is yet to find the back of the net for La Roja in Germany, but registered an assist for Dani Carvajal’s header against Croatia in their opening game.

And his creativity, along with that of Nico Williams, in wide areas could be pivotal. They have each created 5+ chances and completed 5+ dribbles at Euro 2024. This is the first time multiple players have done so for Spain in a group stage at a major tournament since Andres Iniesta and David Silva at Euro 2016.

Georgia – Georges Mikautadze

If you said a striker from the lowest-ranked team in the tournament would be the top scorer after the group stages, many would have scoffed. But Georgia and Mikautadze continue to rip up the script in Germany.

Mikautadze has played a part in all four of Georgia’s goals at Euro 2024, scoring three and setting up another, with his latest strike coming from the penalty spot in their triumph over Portugal.

He became only the fourth player to score in each of his country’s first three matches at the Euros after Gareth Bale for Wales (2016), Hristo Stoichkov for Bulgaria (1996) and Viktor Ponedelnik for USSR (1960 & 1964).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SoccerNews

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