Euro 2024: Georgia boss Willy Sagnol vows to attack vs Spain

COLOGNE, Germany — Georgia coach Willy Sagnol has said his team will not change their tactics after reaching the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time in their history and promised to attack Spain on Sunday.

The lowest-ranked team at Euro 2024 stunned a Portugal side who had already qualified from Group F on Wednesday to set up a meeting with much-fancied Spain in the round of 16 at Cologne Stadium this weekend.

That victory came after energetic performances against Turkey and Czechia and Sagnol said it would be impossible to switch his side’s style and just sit back now.

“Against Spain, Portugal, big teams, when you’re Georgia, if you only think about how to defend, you know at some point you will crumble,” Sagnol said in a news conference on Saturday.

“So, no, we are not only going to defend. Like against Portugal, we will show the Spanish team and Europe that we are not only good at defending, but also using the ball. We had great moments in possession against Portugal and I hope tomorrow we can see same kind of performance.

“You can’t tell your players every day for weeks, ‘Play freely, take risks, don’t calculate, do that, do that and do that’ and just for the knockout stage have a different speech with them. No, no.

“I give a lot of importance to our defensive strategy and our discipline, but once the players have the ball, they know they can do everything they want. Football is not mathematics or a chess game, you also have to play with your feelings.”

Sagnol, who spent most of his playing career at Bayern Munich, said Georgia have already won Euro 2024 just by reaching this stage, adding they have nothing to lose against a Spain side who beat them 7-1 in qualifying for the tournament less than a year ago.

“I can’t remember this game,” he joked when asked about that defeat. “Of course it has been a difficult moment for us, but sometimes to get further in life you need moments like that where it’s very difficult, where you think you’re not good and you think you have done everything bad.

“Without difficulties, you can’t have great achievements. It was a part of our journey. If we are here today, I am sure this 7-1 taught us a lot of things and we learned a lot.

“Tomorrow is another match. We will go into this game with a lot of confidence because we have absolutely nothing to lose. For me, we already won Euro 2024 and I am very excited to be once more on the pitch and to hear the Georgian national anthem in a great stadium.”

Georgia face a Spain side who won all three group games without conceding a goal, with wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal, who has received his school exam results while in Germany, adding a new dimension to Spain’s previously pass-heavy style.

Sagnol said the emergence of the two forwards — Williams is 21 and Yamal still 16 — and other youngsters is refreshing after more than a decade of football being dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“The last months of Williams and Yamal been fantastic — their evolution has been brilliant,” Sagnol said. “It is always nice to see young players coming on at the top level, especially Yamal, he is 16. I try to remember where I was at 16 and I was miles away from that.

“It’s nice, it brings something fresh to football. The problem of the football world in the last 15 years has been the ping pong between Messi and Ronaldo, so to see young players at this level is great for football.

“But Spain also have one of best players in world in midfield in Rodri. When I look at Spanish football, all positions are filled with great players.”

Georgia also have talented players. Georges Mikautadze is the top scorer at the tournament with three goals, goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili has excelled and Napoli winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has impressed, scoring the opening goal in the victory over Portugal in midweek.

Mamardashvili caused a stir ahead of the match with Spain by saying Kvaratskhelia is better than all of Spain’s players in an interview with Marca.

“I am just a Georgian person and I am his fan and I think he is one of the best in the world and someone who could win a Ballon d’Or,” Valencia‘s Mamardashvili, seated alongside Sagnol, said in a news conference.

“It does not mean I don’t respect Spanish players, of course I do. They’re great, but as an ordinary Georgian I think Khvicha is one of the best in the world.”