Georgia struggling to match past glories says former Rangers star Arveladze
BACK in the day, Shota Arveladze was one of those Georgian footballers who had a steady presence on the scene, fed off a steady diet of Champions League football, big game experience at big clubs and trophies coming easily to hand.
But the former Georgia international, now working as a coach with a top-flight side in Turkey, admits that he will travel to Sunday's game in Tbilisi against Ireland more in hope than expectation as the current crop of young Georgian players struggle to reach the heights set by recent generations.
When Ireland faced the Georgians in the Euro 2004 campaign they had a batch of players familiar to football fans in Britain and Ireland. Ketsbaia, Demetradze, Kinkladze, Khizanishvili may not exactly trip off the tongue but they were big names.
But that's no longer the case, says former Ajax and Rangers man Arveladze, who played for Georgia in a 2-0 defeat to Ireland in Dublin in June 2003, Robbie Keane and Gary Doherty the men on target for Brian Kerr's side.
"Georgia have a young side now. We just don't have players at top clubs, like in the English Premier League or Serie A as we did in the past. Most of them are in Georgia or at clubs in places like Ukraine and Russia," Arveladze told The Herald today.
"We always had good attacking players but now it's the other way around, we are very strong in defence but we lack the really good forward players. It's hard for any country to find the one player who can change a game for you.
"Goals are hard to come across and some of our players are injured so it's not easy for Ketsbaia."
Now based in Turkey as manager of Kasimpasa - the club who almost hired Roy Keane before he got cold feet about a move to the Turkish league - Arveladze will use the international break this week to attend the game in Tbilisi but he admits he struggles to keep up to date.
"I didn't see the match the last time Ireland played Georgia so I have no real idea of how strong your team is now. But you have players at Premier League clubs, unlike Georgia at the moment. I know how strong - and weak - we are now and this is a tough game and a tough group for us," he says.
Arveladze didn't play in the 2-1 win for Ireland in Tbilisi but he is proud of the side's displays at home.
"Our home record is very good, Spain and France struggled to win in Tbilisi in the last campaign. We should have 50,000 fans there on Sunday and that's a big advantage to us at the start but once the whistle blows it's up to the players," he says.
He is also one of those Georgians still sore at the fact that FIFA forced Georgia to move their home game against Ireland in 2008 to Germany due to the political situation.
"We have played in Tbilisi for years, always had big games, going back to Soviet times when Dinamo played in big matches in Europe. And our supporters have always been passionate and fair to the away team so that was not fair in 2008," he says. "We had one time when we could not play our home game in Georgia, and I don't know why FIFA and UEFA were so strong against us playing in Tbilisi.
"I would love to be sitting there on Sunday and see Georgia win 2-1. It's not about revenge, it is about us as a small nation getting to a big tournament."