Boys In Green To Sneak Past Georgia
Ireland v Georgia
Ireland kick-off their Euro 2016 qualification campaign with a trip to Tbilisi and a tricky tie against Georgia on Sunday in what will be Martin O’Neill’s first competitive game in the dugout.
Georgia have won two of their past three internationals, earning 2-0 wins over Liechtenstein and Saudi Arabia but were beaten 1-0 by UAE in their last outing.
Ranked just outside the top 100 in the FIFA rankings they performed reasonably well in their World Cup qualification group alongside France and Spain, holding the former to a scoreless draw on their own patch while only succumbing to a late Roberto Soldado goal as they went down 1-0 to the then world champions at home.
Their paltry total of three goals from eight qualifiers for Brazil 2014 illustrates where their biggest problems lie.
O’Neill earned only his second win as manager of Ireland when his side ran out 2-0 winners over Oman last Wednesday night with goals from Kevin Doyle and Alex Pearce earning a fairly routine victory for the hosts at the Aviva.
It was welcome reprieve for the former Aston Villa and Celtic boss, who hadn’t tasted victory in international football since an opening 3-0 win over Latvia last November, having suffered defeats to Serbia, Turkey and Portugal along with draws against Poland, Italy and Costa Rica in the meantime.
It’s a long time since Georgia had talent such as Georgi Kinkladze, Shota Arveladze and European Cup winner Kakha Kaladze in their ranks while former Newcastle United man Temur Ketsbaia now manages the side, although the fact their bosses legacy on Tyneside revolves around him losing the plot during a goal celebration tells you much about his Premier League career.
Dnipro midfielder Jaba Kankava should skipper the side, while Vitesse Arnhem duo Guram Kashia and Valeri Qazaishvili are two of their standout performers but the danger man for Ireland is Spartak Moscow’s 21-year-old Jano Ananidze.
Wigan winger James McClean has been ruled out of the tie by O’Neill as he is lacking in match fitness having only recently returned from an ankle problem.
Wholesale changes are expected to the side which began the match against Oman with the like of Robbie Keane, Shane Long, Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan, John O’Shea and James McCarthy all expected to line out from the start.
Head to Head
Ireland boast a 100 per cent record against these opponents in five previous meetings.
The most recent of those came back in a Dublin friendly just over year ago when Giovanni Trapattoni oversaw a comfortable 4-0 win thanks to goals from Richard Keogh, Simon Cox and brace from Keane, although their task was made much easier after goalkeeper Giorgi Loria was sent off after only 20 minutes for the visitors.
Ireland have won 2-1 on each of their visits to Tbilisi with Doyle and Glenn Whelan grabbing the goals to earn a crucial win on their last visit their during qualification for the World Cup in 2010.
In a tricky group it’s vital Ireland take maximum points against the lesser lights if they’re to have any realistic prospects of automatic qualification.
The 5/4 on an away win is a reasonable punt then as Georgia are no great shakes, despite being a tough nut to crack.
Under 2.5 goals looks to be a sure thing as the Georgians are sorely lacking goals while Ireland have failed to score in their last five away from home. Robbie Keane looked sharp off the bench on Wednesday too, and Ireland’s record goalscorer is well-priced at 9/4 to score anytime and 5/1 to net first.