Chilly Start for Georgia’s Weiss in More Ways than One
A crowd of little more than 5,000 braved an unseasonably freezing night at Tbilisi’s Dinamo Arena to watch a scarcely memorable 1-1 friendly draw between Georgia and Kazakhstan in Vladimir Weiss’s first match in charge of the national team.
It was never likely to be a glorious coronation for the Slovakian debutant who reflected with limited satisfaction on a typically fragmented non-competitive encounter where Azat Nurgaliev’s opener for the Kazakhs was swiftly cancelled out by Georgia’s Tornike Okriashvili toward the end of the first-half.
“I am very dissatisfied with the result. As for the players, I am satisfied with some of them and others disappointed me. Kazakhstan played well but I think we must beat such team,” stated Weiss after the match.
For a game between the world’s 122nd and 125th ranked teams, and with Georgian support for the national football team ever-dwindling, it was no surprise to see vast swathes of empty seats inside a stadium that one and a half weeks earlier had been bursting at the seams for the Georgian rugby team’s vanquishing of Romania.
That cold and popular indifference towards Georgian football will be a challenging hurdle for Weiss to overcome, but there were glimpses of attractive football from a Georgian side which started the night without a recognized striker.
This dearth up-front led to a predictable lack of potency in front of goal as, despite some delicate exchanges between attacking midfielders Vako Qazaishvili, Jano Ananidze, Giorgi Chanturia and Okriashvili, Georgia only forced one save from Kazakh goalkeeper David Loria in the opening half hour, with the Georgian-named stopper denying Kazaishvili at his near post in the 13th minute.
An emphasis on patient, passing football was vivid from Weiss’s Georgia in the early stages but despite dominating possession, the Kazakhs hit the hosts on the counter in the 36th minute.
The highly impressive Serikzhan Muzhikov cut the ball back for Nurgaliev to side-foot past Nukri Revishvili who, though not at fault for the goal, endured a thoroughly unconvincing evening, frequently requiring two or more attempts to make routine catches.
Georgia’s reply was instant though as captain Jaba Kankava fed right-back Ucha Lobjanidze whose cross was so woefully struck that it deceived the Kazakh defence and, following a dummy from Chanturia, Okriashvili crisply levelled from the edge of the penalty area.
Weiss picked out winger Okriashvili, now of Turkish side Eskisehirspor, as Georgia’s best player on the night, but also reserved special praise for 21-year-old debutant Giorgi Aburjania who performed admirably in central midfield.
A customary flurry of second-half substitutions ensued but Georgia did find time to forge three noteworthy openings.
First, Ananidze, who had another uninspiring game in a Georgia shirt, found Solomon Kverkvelia with a corner kick in the 68th minute but the central defender’s diving header crept narrowly over the bar.
The Georgians then had fierce claims for a penalty as substitute Nika Kacharava appeared to be brought down in the penalty area but referee Clayton Pisani of Malta thought otherwise.
The 22-year-old Kacharava then ought to have scored, latching on to Levan Kenia’s excellent through ball, only to shoot feebly at the feet of replacement goalkeeper Vladimir Plotnikov in the 78th minute.
Georgia merited victory but a familiar lack of conviction in the final third let them down, something Weiss will want to address and resolve in the triple header of late spring friendlies against Slovakia, Romania and Spain before the serious business of World Cup qualifying begins against Austria in September.