Georgia Make an Overdue Point in Wales

A second-half header by Tornike Okriashvili earned Georgia a richly merited 1-1 draw against Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday night.

Having fallen behind early in the game, Georgia bounced back with an impressive mixture of spirit and quality which might even have seen the visitors leave the Welsh capital with all three points.

Head coach Vlaidimir Weiss named an unchanged side from the one that had lost undeservedly in Ireland three days earlier, as Georgia sought to avoid a third straight defeat in qualifying.

That goal looked an uphill one after just 10 minutes as Joe Ledley’s corner kick was headed home by Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale from six yards, amid some questionable Georgian defending.

The Welsh, who reached the semi-finals of last summer’s European Championships, struggled to create many meaningful chances thereafter though as Georgia steadily grew into the game.

Jano Ananidze, a player finally threatening to fulfil his massive potential, clipped the top of the Welsh crossbar with a 20-yard free-kick to give the home fans their first moment of concern. And it wouldn’t be their last.

After half-time, the Georgians continued to press for a leveller, playing with more adventure than any Georgian side for several years. Okriashvili pulled a 20-yard shot a meter wide of Wayne Hennessey’s right-hand post in the 55th minute, and a few minutes later the Krasnodar winger went one better.

Ananidze picked out the again excellent Vako Kazaisvhili on the left flank and his delicate cross picked out the perfectly timed run of Okriashvili whose downward header restored parity for rejuvenated Georgia.

Wales, who had taken four points from their opening two qualifiers against Moldova and Austria, pushed forward in numbers in search of a winner but Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Loria was barely tested in the second period.

Indeed, it was at the other end where the most significant goalmouth action occurred. An outstanding run and pass from Okriashvili teed up lone striker Levan Mchedlidze for a one-on-one opportunity in the 73rd minute, but the forward’s finish was feeble and slid two or three meters wide of target. That was a massive let-off for the Welsh and not for the last time either.

Valeri Gvilia, a recent addition to the Georgian lineup under Weiss, curled a shot inches wide from the edge of the Welsh box and soon after Georgia went closer still when Kazaishvili’s shot battered the crossbar with Hennessey completely beaten in the 80th minute.

Even though Georgia did emerge with their first point of the campaign, there was for the third successive match a feeling that the result was unkind to them. Indeed, Georgia could quite reasonably be sitting on four or five points right now, rather than one.

Nevertheless, Weiss’s Georgia have now shown they are a match for three teams who reached the European Championships and the progress made under the Slovakian is undeniable.

There is a confidence and team spirit about this Georgia side, not seen since the early days of Temuri Ketsbaia’s reign. Even in those times the Georgians would not have created the plethora of clear scoring chances they have done in the three matches with Austria, Ireland and Wales.

The long-standing problem of lacking a dependable striker has no doubt cost Georgia points in qualifying so far, but Weiss is starting to get the most out of a squad that has underachieved for some time.

Reaching the World Cup is a fantasy too far at this point, but should this progress continue, there is no reason why Georgia cannot harbor realistic ambitions of a play-off spot for Euro 2020.

Alastair Watt

10 October 2016 19:51