Opposition Watch: Georgia
We caught up with Georgian football aficionado/journalist, Damien Taylor, to hear his thoughts on Saturday's huge qualifier.
TOJ: Georgia have produced many good performances in Group D qualifiers yet only have 3 points. How do you view the qualification campaign thus far for Georgia?
DT: ‘Good’ is maybe a tad generous to describe the performances. There have been good partial performances in the qualification games (the second-half of Wales away, the first-half of the Serbia home game and the last 30 minutes of the Austria home game) but sadly nothing to suggest that Georgia deserve much more than their current tally of points.
How is the relationship between the Georgian national team and the public?
At the moment it’s one of juxtaposition. The casual fans who went home happy after the 2-1 home defeat to Austria (because Georgia had been on top at the end and scored the last goal) were also the same ones who were walking out in droves after Georgia conceded a third to Serbia in a 3-1 loss - one which was their best performance on home soil this campaign. When things go well for Georgia the crowd at the Paitchadze are raucous, with the stadium’s acoustics making for a great atmosphere.
What is the current mood like in the Austrian camp?
For Georgia the mood is of determination to claim a home win in this campaign. With only Republic of Ireland and Wales left to face here, time is running out. A home win is needed to keep fans onside for the next qualification campaign and to give head coach Vladimir Weiss some breathing space from the media and public criticism.
How are the Georgian XI likely to line out from a tactical and strategy point of view?
Vladimir Weiss has been experimenting somewhat recently so it’s difficult to predict. The defence is likely to be marshalled by Guram Kashia but lacks pace if Ucha Lobzhanidze is preferred to Otar Kakabadze. Jaba Kankava is back in the fold after falling out with Weiss and should start in midfield, with Vako Q’azaishvili and Vako Gvilia offering stolid support. Jano Ananidze is the definition of ‘unpredictable winger’ who finally found some form at Spartak Moscow last season, whilst Nika Katcharava should start upfront - he is a handful but will have limited support. It’s a loose 5-4-1 wingback formation which rolls into a vague 3-4-3 when Georgia have possession.
How is this Irish team perceived in Georgia?
They’re neither here nor there. They are not a big draw for the public unlike England; Germany, Spain or Italy, whose players are instantly recognisable and famous. Some players will be known from the English Premier League which is very popular here, however your average Georgian fan will struggle to name any more than two or three Irish players (if you’re lucky).
Ireland don’t have a Gareth Bale, are there any players that Georgia might be concerned with?
No, which is worrying. Plenty of the home fans will expect Georgia to have a real go at Republic of Ireland on the basis that there are no ‘star’ players. They will then be the ones complaining when Republic of Ireland pick off Georgia and win 3-0 with a fine team performance.
Georgia have a lot of player playing in strong foreign leagues, who are the main players that Ireland should be worried about?
Nika Katcharava is a very good striker, with an excellent touch, adept at holding up the ball and linking up. Guram Kashia is on a high after winning the Dutch Cup with Vitesse Arnhem last season, Jaba Jighauri last week helped FK Vardar into the Europa League group stages for the first time and Jano Ananidze helped Spartak to the Russian title last season. In terms of reinforcements, Rapid Vienna’s Giorgi Qvilitaia is a deadly marksman. If he is brought on he will likely score if given half a chance, even if his all round game is still lacking.
The team will likely cede possession to Republic of Ireland and look to break quickly down the wings when given the chance.
Does this Georgia team have weaknesses? And if so what do you think they are?
A lack of concentration or focus has cost Georgia in the past, something which is seen as anathema to Republic of Ireland. Weiss is altering this mentality but it takes time.
Are there any young talents that have excited the Georgian football community?
Giorgi Chakvet’adze and Giorgi Arabidze are the main two hopes for Georgian football. The latter plays for Shakhtar Donetsk reserves and has already made his debut for Georgia after being fast-tracked into the national squad - he also scored two in a recent friendly vs St. Kitts and Nevis. Chakvet’adze turned 18 this week and is expected to leave FC Dinamo Tbilisi in January. KAA Gent is his likely destination but FC Bayern Munich and several English and Italian clubs are still monitoring the situation.
Both of these players were involved in the Georgian U-19s when Georgia hosted the European U-19s Championship this July and it was interesting that neither really connected with each other on the pitch. Chakvet’adze scored a fine solo goal vs Sweden and would have been in line for player of the tournament had Georgia advanced past the group stage.
As for the rest, Dinamo’s captain Otar Kit’eishvili has bags of potential but is currently injured, his club mate Giorgi Kutsia is an underrated youngster but presently too callow, whilst Vat’o Arveladze (nephew of Shota and Archil), has his moments when he’s motivated enough for Lokomot’ivi Tbilisi.
All of these players are 21 or under, which gives Georgia some optimism for the future.
Georgia drew with Wales (and should have beaten them), were very unlucky to lose to Austria in the opening game and maybe should have taken a point in Dublin. Georgia often produce one big results in qualification, is there a feeling in Georgia that this could be the one?
The feeling here is that Wales will be the one, which is probably music to Irish ears!
Finally, how do you see the game ending up?
I suspect the usual whenever we play Republic of Ireland. A game of attrition that Georgia feel they should draw, could win, but will end up losing by the odd goal.
Damian Taylor is a football journalist who has written for various publications in Georgia over the past five years.