Huge RSL contingent into Euro 2024 knockouts

Roshn Saudi League players made history on a dramatic final group matchday at the UEFA European Championship Germany 2024, with an impressive 11 players through to the knockout stages.

Georgia, featuring Al Okhdood defender Solomon Kvirkvelia, have advanced to the last 16 at the first time of asking after a stunning 2-0 win over an already-qualified Portugal in the closing match of Group F.

Goals from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Georges Mikautadze in either half saw the tournament debutants record their first victory at a Euros, which was enough for them to finish third and progress as one of the best third-placed teams.

Kvirkvelia, a standout in Georgia’s opening two matches, was a surprise omission from the starting XI, but came on late in the second half as Georgia needed reinforcements to ensure they maintained their lead and spot in the knockout rounds. The prize for advancing? A last-16 clash with three-time champions Spain.

There, they will come up against Al Nassr defender Aymeric Laporte, who started his second straight game for the Spanish in the 1-0 victory against Albania. That made it three wins from three for Luis de la Fuente’s men to top Group B ahead of Italy.

Also in Group B, there was heartbreak for Laporte’s Al Nassr teammate Marcelo Brozovic in Croatia’s match with Italy. Former Al Faisaly and Al Hilal coach, Zlatko Dalic, started Brozovic for a third successive game and Croatia looked to be on their way to the knockout rounds before a goal in the eighth minute of stoppage-time gave Italy a share of the points. In doing so, it consigned the Croats to an early exit.

While Georgia’s victory meant defeat for Al Nassr captain Cristiano Ronaldo and Al Hilal’s midfield star, Ruben Neves, the Portuguese duo were already safely through - a meeting with Slovenia awaits them in the Round of 16.

Joining Kvirkvelia in the knockout rounds will be Al Okhdood teammate Andrei Burca as well as Damac’s Nicolae Stanciu, after Romania topped Group E following a 1-1 draw with Slovakia.

Burca and Stanciu both played the full 90 minutes, with the former a standout at the back with six clearances to ensure Romania walked away with the point they needed to progress and set up a Round of 16 encounter with the Netherlands.

That will pit Burca and Stanciu against Al Ettifaq captain Georginio Wijnaldum, who came on as a second-half substitute as the Dutch lost 3-2 to Austria but had still did enough to rank as one of the best third-placed teams.

Back in Group E, it was a disappointing conclusion to the campaign for a Belgium side featuring Al Qadsiah’s Koen Casteels and Al Shabab’s Yannick Carrasco. Goalkeeper Casteels was again the man between the sticks for his national team, keeping a second consecutive clean sheet in the 0-0 draw with Ukraine.

Carrasco, meanwhile, came off the bench once more but could not provide the spark as Belgium finished second in the group, setting up a blockbuster last-16 meeting with France.

That’s where they will confront Al Ittihad’s N’Golo Kante, who having picked up back-to-back Man of the Match awards in the opening two Group D games, was impressive again in France’s 1-1 draw with Poland. However, with Kante withdrawn midway through the second half, the point saw the two-time champions slip to second in the group behind Austria.

There will be knockout-round action, too, for Al Ahli’s Turkish defender Merih Demiral, following Turkiye’s dramatic 2-1 win over Czechia, which came courtesy of a 94th-minute goal from Cenk Tosun.

Starting at the heart of defence, Demiral registered a game-high eight clearances to help his side finish second in Group F. They can now look forward to a Round of 16 tie with Austria in Leipzig.

Wrapping up the RSL contingent, Al Ettifaq’s Jack Hendry started again for Scotland, but left the tournament empty-handed as Scotland fell 1-0 to Hungary to finish bottom of Group A - the second straight tournament in which they have failed to win a match.

Also going winless were Serbia, who boast a pair of RSL champions in Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The Al Hilal duo could not find the net against Denmark in their Group C decider, though, with the 0-0 draw confirming their place at the bottom of the standings.