Georgia were the biggest surprise package in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship elite round, finishing above Spain and England to top Group 3 and qualify. Now they head to the final tournament in Slovenia, which begins on Friday, without any fear of what awaits them.
Indeed, Spain and England were the only two teams to have reached eight of the first ten U17 finals, but both miss out on the 11th thanks to Georgia. Vasil Maisuradze's team held Spain to a 1-1 draw in their Group 3 opener before racking up 1-0 wins against John Peacock's 2010 champions and Ukraine.
"Everybody – from the goalkeeper to the reserves – did their job perfectly," the Georgia coach told UEFA.com. "I do not want to mention specific players as those who went to the pitch from the bench also made a contribution."
To most outside observers, Georgia were dark horses at best. For Maisuradze, though, there was always confidence within the camp that they could upset the natural order. "I agree that the majority didn't think we would qualify," he said. "However, those who saw our training process and the work we were doing were not surprised with the result we achieved. Moreover, our record crowd of 12,000 for our final elite round fixture against Ukraine means the majority had changed their minds."
Georgia's success was partly achieved with the help of a series of profitable friendly fixtures. "We have played in Kusadasi, Astana, Baku and Palanga and this experience was important. We drew with Spain in Azerbaijan (1-1) so the second match against them wasn't a surprise. The competition inside the team helped us to be in good shape and finish in the top eight [in Europe]."
Georgia's only previous qualification came in 1997 – then at U16 level – when the current crop had only just been born. This time around they face traditional powerhouses France and Germany, as well as Iceland, in Group A. "I highly rate Germany and France's chances but we also should not underestimate Iceland," said Maisuradze. "I like the fact that two teams will go further and that is our chance. I hope we will find new words to say to the guys which will help them play better."
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