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Despite defeat, Georgians salute their Euro 2024 heroes

TBILISI : Georgia fans in homes, restaurants and a packed Tbilisi stadium were still beaming with pride over their team's achievements at Euro 2024 despite a 4-1 last-16 defeat by Spain that saw them exit the tournament on Saturday.

"It's sad we lost, but we played with dignity. And we never expected to get this far," said Iakob Beridze, 35, a civil servant with a Georgia flag round his neck watching the game with his family and 25,000 others at the Mikheil Meskhi stadium.

The Euros' lowest-ranked team, from a nation of 3.7 million people, lit up the early stages of the tournament and secured passage into the knockout phase at their first major finals with a huge upset win over Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.

The fairy-tale appeared to be continuing early on against Spain - ranked 66 places higher - when Georgia went ahead through an own goal. It was the first time Spain, among the favourites to win the trophy, had conceded at the tournament.

That triggered fireworks in the capital back home.

Spain, though, were too strong and came back to win. However, that did not stop Georgia receiving an emotional ovation from tens of thousands of fans in Germany and plenty of plaudits at home after going so far beyond expectations.

"Thanks to the boys for the joy they brought to Georgian fans," said Kakha Kaladze, mayor of Tbilisi and a former AC Milan player. "Today the whole world knows that Georgia is a nation that fights to the end for victory."

On the streets, where football fever has briefly quelled political protests, fans shouted "Long Live Georgia!" and sang patriotic songs. Cars drove round the capital draped in national flags and horns were beeping long into the night.