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08.02.13 - 14.02.13

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Ketsbaia’s Georgia Make Winning Start To 2013 With Victory In Albania

Youthful attackers impress in Tirana triumph

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Amid low expectations and with a squad largely comprised of players on their domestic winter break, Georgia produced an excellent comeback to earn a 2-1 win over Albania in the Qemal Stafa Stadium, Tirana on 6 February.

Goals from Mate Vatsadze and Ucha Lobjanidze helped Temur Ketsbaia’s men to the country’s first victory in Albania since a 1-0 triumph in 1994 courtesy of a Shota Arveladze winner.

Finding a replacement for the free-scoring Arveladze has proved troublesome for a succession of coaches since his international retirement in 2007.

However, in Tirana the performance of substitute Vatsadze, the 24-year old striker who currently plays in Denmark for AGF Aarhus, gave the Georgian fans some hope that a new national predator is emerging.

Indeed, the Georgian starting line-up was full of youthful promise particularly in the attacking areas with the 25-year old Sandro Kobakhidze the oldest of Georgia’s five attack-minded players.

Levan Kenia (23), Nika Dzalamidze (21), David Targamadze (23) and Levan Mchedlidze (22) completed the vivacious attacking quintet.

Captaining the national team for the first time was Guram Kashia, the full-back turned midfielder who plays in Holland for Vitesse Arnhem taking the armband from the benched Jaba Kankava of Dnipro in Ukraine.

A partisan crowd and a questionable playing surface greeted the Georgians in Tirana and the visitors made an uncomfortable start. First, Mchedlidze went off injured after only 20 minutes to be replaced Vatsadze and five minutes later Albania took the lead.

Under no pressure, left winger AnsiAgolli delivered a perfect cross for the unmarked ErjonBogdani to head the ball past the helpless Roin Kvaskhadze for Albania’s opening goal.

At 35, Bogdani may be four years older than Georgian central defenders Zurab Khizanishvili and Ilia Kandelaki but it was the Albanian striker who reacted the sharper to take advantage of a frail and untried partnership.

The Georgians responded well though, with Kenia, Dzalamidze and the freshly introduced Vatsadze linking up well without testing Albanian goalkeeper EtritBerisha.

However, in the 40th minute some classy combination play eventually bore fruit as the visitors equalized.

Targamadze drove forward through the Albanian midfield and suddenly it was three Georgians attackers against two Albanian defenders.

As he approached the edge of the penalty box he opted for Kenia on the left who did well to control an untidy pass before crossing delicately into the center where the diving Vatsadze headed home his first international goal.

It was a nicely worked goal from the young trio and Vatsadze, who earned a move to Danish football courtesy of superb displays for Dila Gori in the early part of the season, showed the kind of predatory instincts that have so often been lacking for Ketsbaia’s Georgia.

In the second period Vatsadze went extremely close to doubling his tally with a rasping shot that flew narrowly wide. Meanwhile, at the other end, Kvaskhvadze tipped a free-kick on to the post with he and his teammates relieved to see the ball trickle along the goal line before eventually being smacked to safety.

With eight minutes remaining and perhaps against the run of play, Georgia snatched a winning goal as Okriashvili meandered to the touch line before cutting back for Lobjanidze who flicked the ball into the net from close range to give Ketsbaia a success to savor.

After the match, the Georgian head coach seemed glad and pleasantly surprised to have overcome the Albanians in difficult circumstances.

He noted: “Players from the Russian and Ukrainian leagues are only just preparing for the second half of the season, so they are not in prime condition. This made an already difficult match even harder so I am very pleased to have come from behind to win deservedly.”

Looking ahead to next month’s World Cup qualifier against France, Ketsbaia conceded that this would present a big challenge for his players.

He admitted: “We must use the next month and a half to prepare (for France). This will be a completely different game but I am sure the boys will do everything possible.”

By Alastair Watt

7.02.2013

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