Vak to the Future – Georgia Torpedo Scottish Euro Hopes Again

For the second time in eight years Georgia inflicted a deadly blow on Scotland’s European Championships qualification hopes after Vako Kazaishvili’s first-half goal earned the home side a deserved 1-0 victory over the staggeringly below-par visitors at Dinamo Arena last night.

The Georgians still remember their victory over Scotland in 2007 with great fondness, as was reflected by a banner in the home end taunting the visitors with the scoreline (2-0) and scorers from that night.

Before the match Scotland coach Gordon Strachan had been asked whether he thought history would repeat itself, to which he responded dryly, claiming that a “lot had changed” since then.
But from the first whistle, it quickly appeared that very little had changed.

Georgia, backed by a noisy but less than half-full home crowd, were lively on the ball, stuffy in defence and strong in the tackle. Scotland were none of these things.

The Scottish fans had been making their presence felt around the city for a few days and nights, but even from kick-off there was an eerie silence from an away support better known for its relentless vocal backing.

Perhaps that was down to too many libations being consumed in the 32 degree heat of the day. But the more likely factor was anxiety about the importance of the game, and about the limp manner in which Scotland started it.

The Scots knew that victory would almost certainly book a play-off spot at worst for Euro 2016, and that defeat would dismantle the good work of a relatively strong campaign up to this point.
From an early stage it became apparent that the former scenario was not going to materialize.

In the opening minutes Kazaishvili broke away and, in a 3-on-2 situation, elected to shoot feebly from long-range rather than pass to teammates in better positions.

Despite the pitiful outcome of that move, it had lifted a home support that had not seen a victory in a competitive match in the Georgian capital since 2012.

Scotland created precious little in the opening period with the central midfield of Scott Brown and James Morrison notably ineffective, while the attacking trio of Shaun Maloney, Steven Naismith and Ikechi Anya, all star performers in this campaign until now, were neutralized with relative ease by a vastly improved Georgian defence.

Georgia were shading a turgid first-half with goalmouth action scarce until the deadlock was suddenly broken in the 37th minute.

Scotland’s unconvincing central defence of Russell Martin and Charlie Mulgrew failed to clear from a typically frantic Georgian attack, and Kazaishvili struck a low shot past David Marshall from 20 yards to spark delirium among the goal-starved home fans.

The Scots’ anxiety, both on and off the park, was now almost palpable and Georgia should have worsened their plight moments later as Tornike Okriashvili, as he so often does, opted not to shoot in an excellent position, giving Scotland an opportunity to desperately clear for a corner.

Half-time arrived with Scotland failing to register a shot on target, a statistic that was not to change in the second period despite a marginally enhanced showing from the visitors after the interval.
The Scots had the majority of possession by now but were doing little with it, as sideways and backward passing predominated from a pedestrian midfield.

Indeed, the first noteworthy opportunity of the second-half fell to Georgia as Levan Mchedlidze, who scored as a teenager in Scotland’s previous defeat in Tbilisi, forced a flying save from Marshall with a powerful 25-yard strike.

One moment summed up the Scotland performance. Anya attempted to take on Ucha Lobjanidze down the left hand side in a promising situation only for the significantly slower Georgian full-back to shrug the Scots winger aside, with Anya sent running into the track. These were the battles in which Scotland were not only not winning, they were barely competing.

A dubious free-kick for handball presented Scotland with an unmerited chance to equalize in the closing stages but Maloney’s dipping effort clipped the top of the Georgian wall and cleared the untested second-choice Georgian goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili’s crossbar.

And that was that. The Georgian fans at last had a home win to celebrate, while head coach Kakha Tskhadadze claimed the result was a “vindication” of his methods. This certainly was the result he needed to have some tangible evidence of the progress that Tskhadadze, and many other Georgians, believe the team has made under his stewardship.

Soon after the match, Georgia, without the ill Jano Ananidze, travelled to Dublin for Monday’s match with Ireland where they will now have the Scots’ wholehearted support.

To make a desperately disappointing night worse for the Scottish players, their chartered flight failed to show up leading to a delay of around an hour and a half in Tbilisi airport.

Sadly for the Scots, this was not the first forgettable, torturous 90 minutes of their time in Georgia.

Alastair Watt

05 September 2015 14:11