Tomorrow night Poland return to European qualifying group D action as they prepare to take on Georgia in Tbilisi. Georgia have had a rather poor start to the group, sitting in fifth place with their only points won versus the minnows Gibraltar. Poland meanwhile sit surprisingly atop the group with seven points from their first three games after beating Germany in Warsaw last month. Poland will hope to come away victorious tomorrow, but to give us more info on their opponents Rightbankwarsaw spoke to freelance journalist and Georgian football expert Al Watt.
Rightbankwarsaw (RBW): How do you see the Georgian national team at the moment? I hear Temuri Ketsbaia is not very popular. Why is that?
Al Watt (AW): Ketsbaia has been in the job for five years now and his early popularity, peaking after a home win against Croatia, has long since diminished. He has vowed to quit if Georgia do not beat Poland (Ketsbaia today announced he would leave no matter what the result – rightbankwarsaw) and that is pretty close to a letter of resignation, given their slim chances in this match and the ultra-defensive approach he takes. Ketsbaia is not blessed with a world-class squad, and the fans recognize that, but his loyalty to certain players such as Albania-based striker Niko Gelashvili and free agent central defender Akaki Khubutia do little to appease an increasingly apathetic Georgian fanbase.
Controversial Ketsbaia will step down after tomorrow’s match
RBW: Who are the players Poland should watch out for? What are the main weaknesses of the Georgian team?
AW: Tornike Okriashvili, who plays in Belgium with Genk, is Georgia’s form player having scored a wondergoal against Ireland and adding another against Gibraltar. He’s very skillful and, like most Georgians, likes to dribble which gets the crowd excited even though he almost always takes on one defender too many. Another player in form, for his club Cluj, is Giorgi Chanturia. He’s 21 and already had a handful of clubs in Europe, in Russia, Holland and is currently playing in Romania on loan from Italian side Verona. His best position is not clear. I’d like to see him deployed as a central striker as he could link well with the attacking midfield three. However, Chanturia can also play on wide left or right. He plays with more precision than power, although his left foot is capable of both.
Okriashvili (right) playing against Spain two years ago
Okriashvili’s goal against Ireland
The main weaknesses of the Georgian side are a toothless attack and a lack of ambition in their play. They create very few chances and that is partly down to a lack of cohesion and quality among their midfielders and forwards, but also down to tactics where Georgia commit very few players forward. This means they rely on individual brilliance for goals, such as Okriashvili vs. Ireland.
RBW: How do you think the match will go on Friday?
AW: I expect Georgia to approach the game defensively, playing for a 0-0 draw which they won’t quite manage. I predict a 1-0 win for Poland, with a second-half winner.
RBW: Who do you think will qualify from the group and why?
AW: Germany will still win the group, with Poland second and Scotland third. Ireland have been fortunate so far, but that luck cannot continue.
RBW: What’s the situation like regarding the Georgian league at the moment? Can you see much development in the future?
AW: Ketsbaia said this week that “Georgian football is dead” which was slightly dramatic although it echoes the thoughts of many in the country. The league attracts very few fans and almost no sponsorship as teams rely on state funding to survive the season with a couple of exceptions. The under-17 and under-19s have done well in recent years, the former reached the semis of the European Championships in 2012, and the latter reached the 2013 finals, a first for Georgia. Also, Dinamo have changed their policy, for now, to pick only young Georgian players (Except Spanish veteran Xisco) which may be a good thing in the long-term although it will require patience, not something Dinamo’s owner Roman Pipia is renowned for.
AW’s predicted Georgia formation and XI:
RB Lobjanidze CB Kashia CB Kverkvelia LB Grigalava
CM Kankava CM Daushvili
RW Chanturia AMC Ananidze LW Okriashvili