Georgia haven’t made things easy in their recent games against Ireland and having derailed Scotland’s Euro 2016 hopes, Saturday’s opponent’s feel they’re due something against the Boys in Green. Alastair Watt answers some of our questions from Tbilisi as the Republic’s World Cup bid hits crunch time.
What is the view in Georgia of the campaign to date?
There wasn’t much expectation when the group began, albeit this was a fairly kind draw with no heavyweights in the group. This is the first campaign under Slovakian Vladimir Weiss, and given his relative success with his native country at the World Cup in 2010, it was hoped that Georgia might muster a 4th placed finish. That doesn’t look likely now and, even though they should have more points than they do, failure to win any of their matches (two of which were against Moldova) means it’s a pretty gloomy outlook.
Georgia should have beaten Wales away. Is there a feeling the table perhaps doesn’t reflect the performances?
The performance in Cardiff was one of Georgia’s best in the last decade. It was then very disappointing that, in front of over 40,000 in Tbilisi, they couldn’t build on that against Moldova with whom they drew 1-1. There is certainly a strong case that Georgia should have earned more from every game in this group so far, but when you don’t have a decent finisher it might be an issue of quality rather than luck that’s let them down.
Ireland have won eight times in eight games against Georgia but we’ve often gotten lucky? Do Georgia feel they are due a win at home?
There’s no doubt that Georgia are due at least a draw against the Irish, having given as good as they got in the last three matches anyway. In addition, even though Georgia consistently finish 4th-6th in qualifying groups, they do tend to put a spanner in someone’s works. As a Scotsman, I know this only too well. I think Georgia will get one win from their remaining games but I think Wales are a more likely victim than Ireland.
Georgia are coming into the game on the back of two friendly wins but a draw against Moldova, how would you assess the current state of the Georgian game?
Football in this country is going through a transition. The GFF, under former Bundesliga veteran Levan Kobiashvili, are working hard to clean things up after years of mismanagement which saw a lot of people abandon the national team and league. Match-fixing has been a long-standing problem but stiffer penalties are hoped to stifle that. Like most nations of its size in Eastern Europe, the domestic crowds are sparse and their teams’ results in European competition are poor. All of Georgia’s representatives fell at the first hurdle in Europe this summer. Rugby is threatening to overtake football as the nation’s most popular sport, if it hasn’t done so already.
Who have been some of the standout performers and who are the ones to watch?
Vako Qazaishvili has been one of the standouts in the last 2-3 years. He’s an attacking midfielder who contributes frequently with goals, including one against Scotland two years ago which gave Ireland a big lift in Euro 2016 qualification. At club level, he’s had an odd year. Having excelled at Vitesse Arnhem, he made a slightly surprising move to Legia Warsaw where he made very little impact. This summer he joined San Jose Earthquakes which seemed premature for a player in his mid-20s. Time will tell whether that move rekindles his career. Otherwise, Jano Ananidze is something of a Peter Pan figure, and seems to have been around for a long, long time yet is just in his mid-20s. He had the best season of his career last season, winning the Russian league and finally finding some decent form for the national side, scoring a screamer against Austria in Tbilisi.
Georgia have a very difficult end to the group playing Ireland, Austria, Wales, and Serbia. What would be deemed a positive from these games?
Four points would be a good haul and avoiding bottom spot.
Alastair Watt (@tbilisidon) is a Tbilisi-based Scot who covers Georgian sport for various local and international outlets