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Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams back in the lineup for Spain against Georgia in Euro 2024 round of 16

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Spain recovered from conceding an early own-goal to beat Georgia 4-1 for a spot in the Euro 2024 quarterfinals, ending one of the tournament’s most compelling underdog stories.

Goals from midfielders Rodri and Fabián Ruiz brought Spain back into the game after Robin Le Normand’s own-goal in the 18th minute had given Georgia a shock lead. Nico Williams and Dani OImo took the game out of Georgia’s reach with two more goals late in the game as heavy rain fell.

After the final whistle, Williams and the 16-year-old Lamine Yamal met up on the field for an impromptu game of rock-paper-scissors, apparently over who got to drink first from a water bottle.

It was a moment that summed up the unpredictability and sense of fun in a Spain team which had previously been prone to retreating into an unthreatening passing game, as in its loss to Morocco at the same stage of the 2022 World Cup.

Facing Georgia was a test of Spain’s nerves, Rodri said.

“It was a tough game. We knew it before. Maybe they don’t have the big names, but they made it hard for us,” he said, adding that his goal “was key because we were a bit jittery at that point… We have things to improve.”

His own performance won praise from Spain coach Luis de la Fuente, who called Rodri “a walking computer, a perfect computer” in Spain’s midfield, in translated comments.

Spain will play host nation Germany in the quarterfinals on Friday in Stuttgart.

“Obviously Germany at home is going to be very strong but we have no fear. We have our own weapons,” Rodri said.

The loss ends Georgia’s first ever major tournament campaign, which included a 2-0 upset win over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

Despite the lopsided score on Sunday, Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili had another standout game with nine saves to prevent a rout.

Spain had beaten Georgia 7-1 in qualifying last year, but this game was a close contest until the last 20 minutes and testament to Georgia’s rapid improvement under coach Willy Sagnol.

Playing its fourth game of Euro 2024, Spain had yet to concede a goal all tournament.

That soon changed when Otar Kakabadze surged down the right flank for Georgia and crossed low. Le Normand chested the ball past his own goalkeeper, with the defender apparently distracted by Khvicha Kvaratskhelia arriving behind him to meet the cross.

Spain took its time to get back into the game, but Rodri -- back from a one-game suspension -- leveled the score in the 39th with a low shot from just outside the box.

Georgia remained a threat on the counter, including with an audacious shot from the halfway line by Kvaratskhelia, but Spain midfielder Ruiz made it 2-1 in the 51st when he rose unmarked to meet a cross from Yamal.

Needing a goal, Georgia had to open up its compact defensive formation and conceded twice more as Williams scored in the 75th, sprinting through the Georgian half on the break before shooting over Mamardashvili. Substitute Olmo added a fourth eight minutes later.

Sagnol said his team could have beaten Spain after Le Normand’s own-goal but the combination of the equalizer from Rodri and an injury to Otar Kiteishvili just after took the wind out of their sails.

“We thought we could have a chance,” Sagnol said. “We did lose a lot in these 20, 30 seconds.”

After the final whistle, Georgia’s players gathered in front of their fans for a slow-clap chant reminiscent of another European Championship underdog — Iceland — when it beat England in 2016.


AP Euro 2024: https://ift.tt/lkZTEzM

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