Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
The advertising hoardings at the Boris Paichadze National Stadium escaped the kind of treatment once famously meted out by Georgia’s manager Temuri Ketsbaia to the St. James’s Park signage after Levan Kobiashvili scored a last-minute winner against Croatia on Saturday.
It was just a corner flag on the receiving end of a kick from an exuberant Aleksandr Amisulashvili in Tbilisi, but this was nevertheless a goal celebrated with great gusto by the Georgian Geordie and his players.
Kobiashvili’s strike gave his manager a 1-0 win and three vital, albeit slightly fortuitous, Euro 2012 qualifying points.
Ketsbaia was greeted by a round of applause when he entered the room for his post-match press conference, and the streets of the capital were filled with jubilant fans honking their car horns and waving the red and white Georgian flag after the game.
Georgia are third in Group F, one point off Croatia and two behind leaders Greece, who escaped from Malta with three slightly fortuitous points of their own following a 92nd minute goal from Vassilis Torossidis in the Ta' Qali National Stadium at the weekend.
Ketsbaia makes a name for himself in England back in 1998
A first ever appearance at a major international tournament isn't beyond the realms of impossibility for Georgia.
On a personal level for Ketsbaia, victory against Croatia continued his unbeaten run as manager since succeeding Héctor Cúper, whose dismal reign ended with an embarrassing 6-2 defeat away to Bulgaria in 2009.
Georgia picked up just three points from their 10 qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup under the Argentine; with Ketsbaia at the helm they’ve amassed triple that in half the games.
The Georgian Football Federation turned to one of their own after going down the foreign manager route, and it seemed to go almost unnoticed outside of the Caucasus that the Jvarosnebi were undefeated in the eight matches they played last year, three of which came against sides who also travelled to South Africa last summer.
With the weekend’s win against Croatia, plus a victory earlier in the year against an Armenian side who are themselves experiencing something of an upturn in fortunes, that’s 10 without loss for Ketsbaia.
Croatia will feel aggrieved they didn’t take at least a point away from Tbilisi however.
They certainly enjoyed more of the ball and limited Georgia to mostly counterattacks, but for all their possession, Slaven Bilić’s side were unable to find a way past Nukri Revishvili in goal for the home side and as the game wore on a draw seemed the most likely outcome.
But Georgia sneaked the winner in the dying moments when Jaba Kankava tossed forward a ball into the Croatian box that found Otar Martsvaladze, who fed an unmarked Kobiashvili to fire past Vedran Runje. It was perhaps their only effort on target all night.
There’s been a definite improvement in Georgia’s play and although it’s debatable as to just how much credence you can give to FIFA’s world ranking system, this progression is reflected in their status. Under Ketsbaia Georgia have risen from the lowly 124th Cúper left them in up to 72nd in little over a year.
He has at his disposal a good crop of players combining youth and experience, but the key to this renaissance has been sorting out the defensive side of Georgia’s game. In the ten matches since conceding six in Sofia, Georgia have leaked just five goals.
You can argue of course they haven't faced a Brazil, or an Italy or a Spain, but it nevertheless represents tangible progress for a team who’d shipped 22 goals and kept just one clean sheet in their previous 10 outings.
Anzhi Makhachkala’s Revishvili has started all of Georgia’s qualifying games and with Genoa’s Kakhaber Kaladze, Zurab Khizanishvili of Blackburn Rovers and Lasha Salukvadze, once of Rubin Kazan and now at Volga Nizhny Novgorod in Russia, there’s plenty of old heads to call upon at the back. Likewise with the veteran Kobiashvili in midfield.
Kobiashvili, Gogita Gogua and David Siradze celebrate victory
Missing at the weekend was Spartak Moskva’s highly-rated youngster Jano Ananidze, who has been attracting the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Capable of playing behind the strikers or on either flank, the 18-year-old is the youngest scorer in the Russian Premier League and was voted Georgia’s player of the year in 2009.
He made his debut for the senior squad against Italy in September 2009 and will be a big part of Georgia’s future.
Up front, leading the line is Aleksandr Iashvili, now 33, while Ketsbaia also has 24-year-old Vladimir Dvalishvili and Spartak Nalchik’s David Siradze, their top scorer in this qualifying campaign with two.
They might not reach the finals of Euro 2012, or even get a result in Tel Aviv against Israel tomorrow evening, but Ketsbaia has indubitably gone some way to making good on the words he spoke when accepting the job.
"We have decent resources and if we use them in a proper way we can play good football,” he stated in November 2009.
“I will not promise to guide the team to a major tournament in two, four or six years, but we will fight for it. I want a call-up to the national side to be a joy for all the players, not torture."
Georgia beat Scotland a few years ago playing some excellent possession based football. What happened to this team?? Was full of youngsters too!
Latest European Football News
Monaco sign Moutinho and Rodriguez
Zenit to sign Tymoshchuk but snub Arshavin
Gibraltar admitted as UEFA member
Utrecht beat Twente to close in on Europa
Saint-Etienne cling to Champions League hope
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010