herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Georgians low in rankings but high on confidence

Georgia’s Davit Skhirtladze, who plays in Denmark with Silkeborg.
Georgia’s Davit Skhirtladze, who plays in Denmark with Silkeborg.

There is little to cheer about, if you are fan of the national team of Georgia, when those FIFA rankings emerge every month.

The last update from the number-crunchers at FIFA had Georgia ranked at 137th in the world, a planet away from their placing of 42nd back in the 1990s. Officially the 10th worst team in Europe, strip away those eternal whipping boys like Andorra and San Marino, and only Luxembourg, Macedonia, Moldova and Malta are below below the Georgians

The current crop of players lack the quality, and the reputation of past Georgia sides: when speaking to this newspaper during the last qualifying campaign, Georgian maestro Giorgi Kinkladze said he was unable to give a view on the newer members of the national team squad as he'd never heard of them.

Respect

But a new breed of players feel that they can make a real stab at qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Given that the two nations were at war only a decade ago, Georgia heading to Russia for the finals in 2018 would be, erm, interesting at least but there is a feeling in their camp that Georgia can, at last, get one up on Ireland and have a say in qualification. Fed up of losing to Ireland (7 games, 7 losses) and annoyed with the lack of respect, they are keen to make amends.

"We see this as an even group, you have maybe Moldova who are weaker than the rest but everyone else in the group is strong and can have a chance of qualifying," Georgia's Danish-based striker Davit Skhirtladze told The Herald in the build-up to tonight's game.

"We want to make an effort to qualify, we really do. It's hard for the World Cup, harder than the Euros, as you have to win the group but we have a chance.We spoke as a group before we played Austria last month and we agreed that we have to aim for the top three as a minimum, third is our basic target but we want to get higher."

The names are hard to pronounce but in the past, Georgian players like Kaladze, Kinkladze, Ketsbaia, Arveladze and Khizanishvili would have been familiar to Irish fans. This lot are more obscure, no stars, no big clubs beside their names.

Skhirtladze, the 23-year-old forward who plays for Danish side Silkeborg, admits that lustre is lacking.

"A few years ago we had a great team, with players like Kinkladze, Ketsbaia and Kaladze at clubs like Ajax, AC Milan and Newcastle, we were new to international football, playing in Europe for the first time and we were showing Europe just how good Georgia could be, what level of performance we could get," he says.

"As kids we wanted to imitate them and follow them but it's hard as they were such great players. But we still feel we have good quality players who can bring us good results.

"I am new to the squad and still learning, I played against Austria last month and I hope to get more time against Ireland, but my form is good as I have scored a few goals for my club in Denmark, it's a good league with a good standard."

Having lost the first game of the last campaign at home, to Ireland, Georgia were desperate to avoid defeat in the opening match this time but they fell again in Tbilisi, 2-1 to Austria, but hope springs from defeat.

"It was disappointing to lose to Austria, in the second half we could have scored and we created chances, Austria let us play with the ball more but we didn't take our chances, we could have had a draw at home to Austria," says Skhirtladze.

"It happened in 2014, we started with a defeat at home, we lost to Austria last month and now we want to make up for it. We know it's tough in Dublin as we have lost every time we played there, I have heard that the Irish home crowd is hard to play against but we feel we can do something in Dublin and in Wales on Sunday and if we do that, we have a chance."

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