Georgia Rue Missed Chance as Sluggish Ireland Prevail

An unsightly 56th minute goal from Seamus Coleman proved sufficient for an uninspired Ireland to emerge with a scarcely merited 1-0 victory over Georgia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Thursday night in the second matchday of World Cup 2018 qualifying.

The result leaves Georgia without a point from their first two matches having lost narrowly to Austria in Tbilisi last month, but that tally masks clear improvement in the Georgian side under head coach Vladimir Weiss.

In the first-half in particular the Georgians posed their opponents, who reached the last 16 of last summer’s European Championships, numerous problems and had the home fans grateful for the whistle at the end of both halves.

Georgia came to Dublin with a 0% record against Ireland from seven meetings, the majority of which had been close-run affairs, and there was a sense of anxiety among the injury-hit Irish that Georgia might finally end that rut.

After a nervy start, especially from the rusty Solomon Kverkvelia whose slip would have led to an early opener but for a brave block from captain Guram Kashia, Georgia created a succession of chances courtesy of some sharp passing football.

Otar Kakabadze, the 21-year-old of Spanish club Gimnastic, was deployed at right-back following the long overdue dropping of Ucha Lobjanidze and he justified his inclusion with a competent performance in both a defensive and attacking sense.

And it was his 17th minute cross that forced Georgia’s first opening, as the ball fell to Vako Kazaishvili whose snapshot on the turn flashed just wide of Darren Randolph’s right-hand post.

That was the first scare for the Irish and soon there were more.

Jano Ananidze, who produced his best performance for the national side for some time, delivered a perfect free-kick in the 37th minute for Levan Mchedlidze to head against the underside of the crossbar and from the rebound Kashia’s looping header bounced off the top of the post as the Irish breathed another sigh of relief.

After Shane Long had missed an acrobatic half-chance at the other end, Ananidze’s measured through ball reached the energetic Kazaishvili who could only prod the ball straight at the on-rushing Randolph.

The Irish goalkeeper was again engaged before half-time as Mchedlidze’s powerful 20-yard shot had to be palmed away from the top corner.

Half-time came at a good time for Ireland who knew they were fortunate to still be level, and after the interval Georgia struggled to recreate the composure and at times control of the opening period.

The emboldened Irish took full advantage with Everton’s Coleman marauding down the right past Giorgi Navalovski and into the Georgian box before ricocheting his way to the goal-line to score his first international goal, much to the visible relief of O’Neill and the Irish fans.

While Coleman’s determination was to be applauded, question marks surfaced over the Georgian defending and especially goalkeeper Giorgi Loria who looked on in frozen bewilderment as the ball pinged around his immediate vicinity before going in.

The Georgians mustered little in the way of a riposte despite enjoying long spells of possession in the Irish half. The crossing of Navalovski and Kakabadze lacked the necessary quality to hurt an Ireland defence more than comfortable with any aerial attacks.

The introduction of a second striker, David Skhirtladze, in the 73rd minute had next to no effect with the Denmark-based forward barely touching the ball during his time on the park.

Indeed, as Georgia huffed and puffed, it was Ireland who came closest to netting the game’s second goal as the impressive James McClean headed against Loria’s bar in stoppage time.

As full-time arrived, the Georgian players consoled each other on another night of what might have been. Qualification for the World Cup was never the realistic aim for Weiss and his men, and that fantasy has more or less vanished already as Georgia trail the quartet of Austria, Wales, Serbia and (their conquerors for the eighth successive time) Ireland all sitting four points clear of them.

Nevertheless, if Georgia can replicate the performances of the second-half against Austria and the first against Ireland they will derail the World Cup journey of one or two, perhaps starting with Wales in Cardiff on Sunday.

By Alastair Watt



07 October 2016 13:45