Late Kvilitaia Strike Steers Georgia Away from Rock Bottom

A late goal from striker Giorgi Kvilitaia salvaged a 3-2 victory for Georgia against minnows Gibraltar at the Victoria Stadium on October 15, extending the Georgians’ unbeaten run to four games.

Georgia, in their penultimate Group D fixture of an occasionally encouraging Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, cruised into an early two-goal lead only to carelessly allow the Gibraltarians to come within six minutes of taking their first points off the Georgians in the fourth meeting between the sides.

Having recorded three successive credible draws against South Korea, Denmark and Ireland, Vladimir Weiss’s men approached the trip to Gibraltar in relatively good fettle, and a comfortable evening beneath the famous Rock was expected.

Indeed, that’s precisely how it started as Georgia burst into a 10th minute breakthrough when Levan Shengelia’s clipped pass found Giorgi Kharaishvili who slotted the ball past Gibraltar goalkeeper Kyle Goodwin with ease.

Kharaishvili, who plays his club football in Sweden at IFK Gothenburg, very nearly doubled his and his country’s tally moments later but he headed wide from full-back Giorgi Navalovski’s deflected cross.

The reprieve was short-lived for Gibraltar though as Georgia soon did add the second goal that their dominant start had merited, when captain Jaba Kankava unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards past the helpless Goodwin.

Georgia scarcely threatened a third goal before the interval but seemed in more or less total control, as was to be expected against a nation with a population that would only fill three-fifths of Tbilisi’s Dinamo Arena.

The second-half began with a similar theme of Georgian control as Kankava fed Vako Qazaishvili, only for the latter to flick the ball over the crossbar from the edge of the Gibraltar box.

Georgia’s grip on the game then started to loosen around the hour mark as a defensive daze allowed Gibraltar’s Tjay De Barr to race clean through, but somehow fire wide of an open goal after rounding Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.

That represented a warning for Georgia, and one they would fail to heed. In the 67th minute, a low cross from the left hand side found Lee Casciaro who drilled the ball home from 8 yards to halve the home side’s arrears and give them genuine hope of an unlikely point (or better) with a quarter of the game remaining and the Georgians wavering.

Seven minutes later and, remarkably, the scores were level. A Gibraltar corner found the head of Roy Chipolina who finished past Loria at the second attempt to spark jubilation among the home players and fans alike.

In their 43 previous internationals, Gibraltar had mustered only four wins (against Armenia, Latvia, Liechtenstein and Malta) and three draws (against Slovakia, Estonia and Liechtenstein). Georgia looked set to find themselves in less than illustrious company.

However, the Gibraltar equaliser appeared to awaken Georgian from a second-half slumber as the impressive Shengelia recorded a second assist of the evening by teeing up Kvilitaia for a predatory 84th minute winner to spare Georgian blushes.

Afterwards, Weiss expressed concern that the Georgian midfield and defense had “lost control” and similar shortcomings would certainly be more severely punished in his team’s final group match in Switzerland next month.

With automatic qualification for the Euros unlikely from the outset, and all but impossible after just the first two group games, the Georgian focus has for some months been on the play-off next March. At present, their semi-final opponents will be Belarus with the winners of that clash moving on to play either North Macedonia or Kosovo for a spot at next summer’s European Championships.

By Alastair Watt

17 October 2019 18:32