The Georgian players woke up this morning with grins from ear to ear – and not only because the sun was beaming through the windows of their Ljubljana hotel.
The night before, Vasil Maisuradze's youngsters had managed to extend their remarkable campaign by beating Iceland 1-0 to reach the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship – the first time the country has ever achieved such a feat at any age level. Two of the key men in Thursday's win, Dato Dartsimelia and Giorgi Papunashvili, spoke to UEFA.com.
"I woke up with a very good feeling, knowing I was in the semi-finals," said a delighted Dartsimelia, the substitute who scored the 73rd-minute winner.
"I couldn't sleep last night," added Papunashvili, an attacking midfielder with a fearsome left-footed shot. "I was replaying the match in my head all night. It was unbelievable, a historic win for our little nation."
Papunashvili was Georgia's main threat against Iceland, and only goalkeeper Runar Runarsson's reflexes prevented him scoring from one of many powerful long-range attempts. "I thought the goal would never come," said the No8. "We had one chance, then two, then three – their goalkeeper kept everything out. But in the end, we got lucky and grabbed the win."
"When I came on, I knew the score in Ljubljana favoured us," said goalscorer Dartsimelia, who made the difference with a prodded effort. "So I knew that we had to get a goal. When I scored, I felt it was very important. I got lucky – I didn't even shoot really, I just stuck out a foot. But after so many chances, I think we deserved this bit of luck."
Papunashvili is determined that credit go to tactician Maisuradze, who has guided Georgia this far. "Our coach has done a great job with this team over the last two years," he said. "He has done everything for us, and he's been great this tournament. In this match, he again made the right decision to bring on Dato, and this win must be attributed to him and all the staff."
Georgia now take on reigning champions the Netherlands in the last four, but will go into Sunday's game without fear. "The Netherlands are a very strong team; we know that," said Dartsimelia. "They always do well. But after facing so many big teams – Spain, England, Germany and France – and not losing, we are not afraid of the Netherlands."
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