Georgia’s Long Road Back from the Barren Reaches of Pot 6

Poland were somewhat flattered by a four-goal winning margin against Georgia in the Euro 2016 qualifier in Warsaw on June 13 but, despite further signs of improvement for head coach Kakha Tskhadadze, the defeat confirmed that the Georgians will be bottom seeds for the looming World Cup 2018 qualifying draw.

Perched 139th in FIFA’s world rankings, one place above Tajikistan, Georgia find themselves at their lowest standing since their first year of competing in international competition in 1994.

With Euro 2016 qualification already an impossibility, focus switches to the next campaign but if Georgia are to even come close to reaching Russia 2018, they’ll need to take the long road to do so.

Some of the other confederations have already started their qualification bids, while the draw for European qualification takes place on July 25 in St Petersburg where Georgia will face the embarrassment of being placed in the same pot as perennial whipping boys Andorra, San Marino and newcomers Gibraltar against whom Georgia recorded its only competitive victory in the last two years, last October.

For the World Cup campaign ahead, Georgia won’t have the luxury of playing the also-rans. Instead, they’ll be one of them.

In Warsaw, Georgia had held their own until Arkadiusz Milik’s 62nd minute opener and were still well in the game until Robert Lewandowski mercilessly walloped a high-speed hat-trick past Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Loria in the final minutes.

Tskhadadze, while complimentary of Poland who he described as “a machine”, also accepted responsibility for the 4-0 reverse, Georgia’s fifth defeat from six qualifiers, scoring just once in the five games not involving Gibraltar.

“The last five minutes were a disaster and we have to play until the end. That was unacceptable and I am responsible. We must analyze mistakes as we had been competitive for 87 minutes but could not take our chances,” said the very humble Georgian head coach.

In fairness, this was one of Georgia’s better performances of the campaign, not a wonderful accolade admittedly, but the on-pitch progress is visible even if the results are yet to reflect this.

The experience gained by the young pair of Lasha Dvali and Valeri Qazaishvili should be valuable for the remainder of the campaign, while it should not be forgotten that Georgia were without their captain and most reliable performer Jaba Kankava in the Polish capital.

The Georgians won’t get the opportunity to salvage some pride and ranking places from a sorrowful campaign until September, when they host Scotland and then visit Ireland.

The Scots, following a scarcely merited 1-1 draw in Dublin, stay third in the group and will all but secure third spot at worst if they can follow in the footsteps of Germany, Poland and Ireland by winning in Tbilisi.

It is in such circumstances that Scotland last visited Georgia in 2007, within touching distance of a place at Euro 2008 after beating France twice, only to be undone by goals from Levan Mchedlidze and David Siradze on what remains a painful night for the Scottish fans.

That memory may offer some encouragement to Tskhadadze, who could do with a positive result soon to substantiate claims of progress before he plots his country’s way through what promises to be a daunting World Cup qualification group on the horizon.

Alastair Watt

18 June 2015 22:40