Thrashing of Latvia Can’t Heal Georgia’s World Cup Wounds

The emotionless expression of Jano Ananidze’s face after he walloped home a spectacular goal to put Georgia four ahead against Latvia on Tuesday 28 March said it all. Too little, too late.

Four days too late, to be exact. Head coach Vladimir Weiss had called up a squad of 24 players for what was billed a double header, concluding with a friendly against Latvia, and starting with a World Cup qualifier against Serbia on Friday 24 March.

Clearly though, it was the first of these encounters that would carry all of the importance. Georgia had played well in each of their opening four qualifiers against Austria, Ireland, Wales and Moldova but only had two points to show for their efforts.

Therefore, only victory against Serbia would keep alive already slim hopes of reaching a World Cup for the first time ever.

And, in front of a boisterous 30,000 home crowd at Tbilisi’s Dinamo Arena, it started perfectly. A suicidal backpass by Aleksandr Kolarov allowed surprise starter Nika Kacharava to poke the ball past the never convincing Vladimir Stojkovic – whose appearance once ignited a riot by his own supporters in Genoa – to give the Georgians a precious sixth minute lead.

Euphoric scenes ensued.

The Georgians continued to create chances, with Vako Kazaishvili forcing an unnecessarily dramatic save from Stojkovic soon after. The Legia midfielder then passed up a glorious opportunity to double Georgia’s lead in the 34th minute, shooting wide when clean through and with a teammate waiting unmarked in the middle.

This proved a significant turning point as the Serbs were level before half-time. Georgian right-back Otar Kakabadze dragged down Serbia’s Filip Kostic to concede a clear penalty kick, duly converted by Southampton’s Dusan Tadic.

That blow somewhat killed the half-time mood at the Dinamo and worse was to follow after the interval.

Although Ananidze and the returning Jaba Kankava did produce noteworthy saves from Stojkovic on around the hour mark, the visitors, perhaps not deservedly, took the lead for the first time in the 64th minute courtesy of a merciless finish from striker Alaksandar Mitrovic from 20 meters.

Georgia huffed and puffed but without properly threatening an equaliser, and Serbia made sure of victory four minutes from the end as Tadic fed Mijat Gacinovic to kill off another World Cup dream.

The result left Georgia trailing joint group leaders Serbia and Ireland by nine points with five matches remaining. Mission impossible, although a top three finish could still be within reach and that may have some value when it comes to seeding for Euro 2020 qualification.

Four days later, and a significantly smaller home crowd enjoyed a highly attractive 5-0 demolition of Latvia.

Ananidze’s 18th minute penalty broke the deadlock after which a double from Rapid Vienna striker Giorgi Kvilitaia gave some encouragement that he might be Georgia’s long-awaited solution for the number nine jersey.

A second for Ananidze late in the second half, spectacularly dispatched from 25 meters, was followed by a free-kick by newcomer Giorgi Arabidze to seal an emphatic, but ultimately hollow, win.

Next up for Georgia is a friendly against St Kitts and Nevis before a qualifier in Moldova, both to be played in early June.

Alastair Watt

30 March 2017 21:41