Not quite Czech mate, but touch draw for Georgia under-21s
Georgian youngsters to face Holland and Scotland in Euro 2015 qualifiers
For all the negativity and distant indifference that seems to surround the full Georgian national football team, the country’s football supporters have been given some cause for optimism by their youth sides in recent years.
On 31 January, the draw took place for the European Under-21 Championships of 2015 to be held in the Czech Republic and Georgia were dealt a tough hand.
Playing in Group 3, the Georgians will face the daunting prospect of Holland, and an improving Scotland and Slovakia while Luxembourg will likely be making up the numbers.
In order to qualify for the finals to be held in the summer of 2015, Georgia will need to finish in the top two after which there would still be a two-legged play-off to negotiate.
It is hoped that the Georgian teenagers who have been making great progress at under-17 and under-19 levels will be promoted to play at least some part in the qualification campaign.
The country’sunder-19s recently qualified for the Elite qualifying round for Euro 2013 where they will play England, Scotland and group hosts Belgium in late May.
Meanwhile, the under-17s have been particularly outstanding as they reached the Euro 2012 semi-finals in Slovenia where they suffered a last minute defeat to Holland.
Since then, they hammered Scotland 3-0 in Tbilisi to book their place in the Elite qualifying round and they will compete against Ireland, Serbia and group hosts Austria in late March for a place at the Championships in Slovakia.
Temur Ketsbaia will certainly be a keen observer of all of the country’s youth teams, in the hope that a golden generation, or at least a couple of starlets, can emerge for the full national side.
Indeed, there are already some players below the age of 21 in Ketsbaia’s squad on a regular basis including Jano Ananidze and Tornike Okriashvili which shows the Georgian head coach’s willingness to give youth a chance.
Of the current under-21 squad, the main prospects are Dinamo Tbilisi midfielder Nika Kvekveskiri, Nika Dzalamidze of Polish club Jagellonia Bialystok and Empoli striker Irakli Shekiladze. Indeed, Dzalamidze has already been capped three times for the top team.
Therefore, there is a chance that under-21 coach Aleksander Chivadze will be deprived of the more established young players and could have to call on the best of the aforementioned impressive under-17s and under-19s.
As a player, Chivadze won the European Under-21 Championships with the Soviet Union in 1980, the same year in which the defender was named the Soviet Footballer of the Year.
The Dinamo Tbilisi legend also appeared at two World Cups, in Spain in 1982 and in Mexico in 1986.
As a coach, he has managed the Georgian full team twice, first from 1993 to 1997 during which Georgia enjoyed some emphatic results including a 5-0 victory against Wales. His second spell was less noteworthy, from 2001 and 2003 before being replaced by the Croatian Ivo Susak.
Georgia have never qualified for the Under-21 Championships, their qualification for this year’s tournament in Israel had started well with a victory in Croatia but soon petered out with heavy defeats against Spain (2-7) and Switzerland (5-0).
For the 2015 campaign, Holland will be the clear favorites to win the group and realistically Georgia will be locked in a battle for second place with Scotland and possibly Slovakia.
The Scots, managed by former Aberdeen and Celtic player Billy Stark, have a very promising young group of players which include Celtic’s 19-year old striker Tony Watt, who earlier this season scored the winning goal against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Qualification will begin from late March, with the fixture schedule to be announced shortly.
By Alastair Watt