Embed from Getty ImagesAfter a turbulent few days for Irish football, quite apart from a scarcely-inspiring win against minnows Gibraltar, Georgia arrive in Dublin offering a stern examination of Mick McCarthy’s side. Alastair Watt gives us the inside view on Tuesday’s visitors – already guaranteed a Euro 2020 play-off thanks to their Nations League efforts – to Dublin.
What are the hopes for the current qualification series, and the reaction to the game with Switzerland?
Georgia’s Euro 2020 ambitions are probably limited to the play-off spot they have already secured through the Nations League. Assuming they do not qualify through the conventional route, they will be left with a one-off home game against Belarus next Spring to secure a play-off versus Kosovo or North Macedonia to reach their first-ever major finals. In terms of this group, any slim hopes of a top two place are almost certainly gone after losing to the Swiss at home. A capacity crowd turned up for it, and Georgia played reasonably in the first half. They created a couple of half-chances, and limited Switzerland to the same at the other end. Georgia then had an effort cleared off the line moments into the second half, but as soon as Switzerland scored a fine opener, that was that. The remaining 35 minutes were dull, with the Swiss well on top until scoring their second which prompted a mass exodus from the stands.
In one of your previous previews for us you wrote Georgia were due a good result against Ireland. We’ve struggled against Georgia in the past, is Tuesday the day that result comes?
In the World Cup 2018 qualifiers, Georgia finally earned a long overdue point against Ireland. They’d come close to doing so on a few occasions before that. Naturally, the next step is for Georgia to beat the Irish but the best hope of doing that will be in the Tbilisi fixture. Georgia did record respectable draws in Wales and Austria in the last campaign though which augurs fairly well for them.
Ireland have a new manager but Irish fans were unimpressed with the win over Gibraltar. Does it give Georgia more confidence going into Tuesday?
“The Irish squad is arguably the weakest it has been in decades. At one time, Georgian fans would have known the names of a lot of their starting line up, but today they’d struggle to name more than one or two.”
That in itself gives the Georgians a bit of hope, but the Georgia side lacks pace and composure in attack, which would be crucial ingredients to an unlikely counter-attacking victory. I assume McCarthy will have a supportive crowd behind him for his first competitive home game on his return as Ireland boss, but that goodwill could be tested if Georgia keep it goalless for the first half hour or so.
Georgia won their Nations League group. How were the performances perceived?
The standout results were the victories on the road in Kazakhstan and Latvia. Georgia have long struggled to gain points away from home against even the most modest opposition so these results were encouraging, even if Latvia were particularly dire. Less encouraging was the draw in Andorra, where Georgia’s performance did not merit any more than the point they earned. Booking a play-off spot has definitely regenerated a bit more interest in the national side, but the more knowledgeable among the support know that Georgia are still quite some distance from competing with even the mid-ranking sides in Europe such as Ireland.
Who are some of the main players to watch out for?
Teenage winger Giorgi Chakvetadze was sensational in the Nations League, and he represents the biggest hope for Georgian football in many years. He is quick, skillful and has an accurate and powerful shot. He missed the Swiss game and Georgia’s attack was relatively blunt without him. If he misses the game in Dublin, that reduces Georgia’s chances massively. Ananidze misses out after getting injured on Saturday, leaving the Georgians with precious little in terms of attacking midfield and width. Lone striker Kvilitaia is arguably their best centre forward since Arveladze, but still somewhat unproven, and starved of service, at international level. A positive outcome for Georgia will depend on the performance of goalkeeper Loria, who has produced some point-winning displays in the past, most notably at home to France in 2013.
They won’t be making a DVD of this one. Georgia will play defensively and Ireland’s attack is not particularly fluid or talented. 1-0 Ireland with a set-piece goal.
Alastair Watt (@tbilisidon) is a Tbilisi-based Scot who covers Georgian sport for various local and international outlets