Kvirkvelia resumes Ronaldo rivalry at Euro 2024

The last time Georgian central defender Solomon Kvirkvelia came up against Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo, the setting was very different.

The two squared off only last month, in Najran, in the far south of Saudi Arabia near the Yemeni border.

On that occasion, in front of more than 7,000 in attendance, it was Ronaldo’s Al Nassr that emerged victorious, with their celebrated captain scoring in a 3-2 win. Despite the result, Al Okhdood still staved off relegation from the 2023-24 Roshn Saudi League, finishing one point and one spot above the drop zone.

When Kvirkvelia and Ronaldo meet again on Wednesday, the circumstances will be very different - but no less important for the Al Okhdood ace.

Now, in the German city of Gelsenkirchen in front of what's expected to be a capacity crowd of almost 50,000, Georgia are chasing their first ever win at a UEFA European Championship and, with it, possible progression to the tournament's knockout rounds.

As it stands in UEFA European Championship Germany 2024 Group F, things are tight. Very tight indeed.

While Ronaldo and his Portugal side are safely through after two straight wins, who joins them in the Round of 16 is still wide open between the pool’s other three teams: Turkey, featuring Al Ahli’s Merih Demiral, Czechia and Kvirkvelia’s Georgia.

Turkey are currently second on three points, thanks to their 3-1 opening win against Georgia last week, while Czechia and the aforementioned Georgia are third and fourth, respectively, with one point apiece.

Depending on the result of the game between Czechia and Turkey, a win for Georgia would see them finish, at worst, third. And that may still be enough to progress to the knockouts.

With so much up in the air, Kvirkvelia’s likely battle with fellow RSL representative Ronaldo could be crucial to deciding the outcome.

The 32-year-old was a rock at the back in their 1-1 draw with Czechia on Matchday Two in Germany. With almost 40 places separating the teams in the FIFA rankings - Czechia at 36 and Georgia at 75 - it was no surprise Czechia dominated.

The 2004 semi-finalists threw everything at the Georgian defence, firing off 27 shots and recording an xG of more than 3.0. However, Kvirkvelia and his defensive counterparts stood strong to walk away with a hard-earned point.

Kvirkvelia’s 12 clearances were not only the most for the game, but also the most recorded by an individual player at the entire tournament. Added to the fact he won six of his seven duels, it was almost a complete defensive performance.

All of that will come as no surprise to viewers of the RSL, who witnessed Kvirkvelia’s defensive heroics on a weekly basis. In fact,  he led the way across the 2023-24 season for clearances, with a whopping 161 across the campaign.

For sure, Kvirkvelia will need to be at his best again to keep Portugal’s attack at bay, especially since it’s headlined by 2023-24 RSL top scorer Ronaldo. Yet, if Georgia are to get anything from the clash in Gelsenkirchen, then Kvirkvelia will undeniably play a huge part in doing so.