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Guler enhances reputation with goal for Turkey in thrilling win over debutant Georgia at Euro 2024

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) — With Kylian Mbappe about to join a throng of attacking superstars at Real Madrid, Arda Guler faces an even tougher fight to break through at Europe’s top team.

The Turkey teenager might just succeed on the evidence of his explosive debut in international tournament soccer on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old Guler enhanced his reputation as one of Europe’s brightest young talents by curling home a brilliant second-half goal to help Turkey beat tournament debutant Georgia 3-1 in a European Championship thriller.

Guler brought a strong end to his first season at Real Madrid to the Euros by cutting in from the right and bending a fierce shot into the top corner in the 65th minute, regaining the lead for Turkey at 2-1 to become the youngest ever debut scorer at the Euros — surpassing Cristiano Ronaldo from 2004.

Substitute Kerem Aktürkoğlu scored a breakaway goal in the final seconds of stoppage time for Turkey’s third, settling a back-and-forth Group F match in Dortmund which featured fan disorder before kickoff and was played in the most febrile and intense atmosphere.

This was a nation-stopping moment for Georgia, a South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people that is making its debut in an international tournament since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, amid protests and political turmoil back home.

Georgia’s players dealt admirably with an intimidating atmosphere created by Turkey’s fans and responded to Mert Muldur’s volleyed finish for the Turks in the 25th with an equalizer by Georges Mikautadze in the 32nd.

Guler’s intervention was crucial, though, and it was the latest in a string of outside-of-the-area strikes at these Euros. It also was another demonstration of his talent that was on display when he scored five goals in five games to finish a Spanish league season of which he missed the majority because of injury. He was an unused substitute in the Champions League final that Madrid won.

Whether he finds game time even harder to come by next season following the arrival of Mbappé and Brazil forward Endrick remains to be seen. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will be aware he has a gem on his hands in Guler, who said he received a message from the Italian after the game.

“Ancelotti is motivating me a lot,” Guler said. “Of course I'm happy to have scored my first goal for Turkey — I hope this first match shows us the way forward.”

Georgia, at No. 75 the lowest-ranked nation at Euro 2024, could easily have snatched a point from a game played at a frenetic pace that never let up.

In stoppage time and with its goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili upfield in search of a goal, Georgia whipped in a free kick that evaded everyone and struck the post before a shot from the rebound was cleared off the line.

The resulting corner — sent in with Mamardashvili still up in the box — was cleared and Aktürkoğlu had the freedom of Westfalenstadion to run through unchallenged to sidefoot the ball into an empty net.

The final whistle was blown upon the restart and Turkey’s players gathered in front of their jubilant fans to celebrate. In the last Euros in 2021, Turkey arrived as many pundits’ highly fancied outsiders and flopped, losing all three of its group games.

This time could be different, with Italian coach Vincenzo Montella having selected an exciting squad with the second-youngest average age at the tournament.

Guler is the shining light among them, his goal capping a performance that saw him set up five chances in total and excel with technique and creativity.

Georgia’s superstar is Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and the Napoli winger was kept relatively quiet, until the last few minutes when he was involved in many of his team’s attacks.

Georgia wound up hitting the goal frame twice in that frantic late wave — Giorgi Kochorashvili also did so after a solo run — and its players fell to the ground in despair at the end.

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

Steve Douglas, The Associated Press