Georgia v Scotland: Hosts pose tricky test for Scots in qualifier

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
The then Scotland manager Alex Mcleish saw his side fall to a 2-0 defeat in Georgia in 2007
The then Scotland manager Alex Mcleish saw his side fall to a 2-0 defeat in Georgia in 2007
Euro 2016 qualifying: Georgia v Scotland
Date: Friday, 4 September Venue: Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tiblisi Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/online; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

"We were not hard to play against as a team."

Those were words uttered by Kenny Miller in Tbilisi, almost eight years ago.

It may also serve as a warning as Gordon Strachan prepares to lead the current squad into battle in the same city this week.

Miller's sentence came after the Scots - sporting burgundy for the first and last time - went down to a damaging 2-0 reverse.

The defeat by a patchwork Georgia undoubtedly played the biggest role in the Scots' failure to qualify for Euro 2008.

Willie Miller's Georgia-Scotland preview

Alex McLeish's men would go on to lose to Italy at Hampden Park in a match engulfed in pressure thanks to what transpired in the former Soviet state the previous month.

Fast forward to autumn 2015 and a similar crossroads awaits.

Fail to win in Tbilisi and the heat will be on again when the incumbent world champions come to Glasgow, with Germany on the horizon.

The Republic of Ireland, the Germans and most recently Poland have all plundered three points from visits to Georgia in this campaign.

Most feel that if the Scots are to make it to the finals in France, they will have to follow suit.

Kenny Miller (right) was in action for Scotland in 2007
Kenny Miller (right) was in action for Scotland in 2007

But is this a trip that should be accompanied by a health warning?

The Georgians are currently at a lowly 147th in the Fifa world rankings.

Incredibly, since that anti-climactic night in October 2007, the Georgians have only won four of their subsequent 35 competitive matches.

They've also managed to score just once in home competitive internationals in the last three years - Tornike Okriashvili's stunner against the Irish on matchday one in this campaign.

It's hardly intimidating form.

However, it is a Georgia side that Scotland struggled to put away when they ran out 1-0 winners at Ibrox last October.

Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D

And it is a Georgia side that, despite the scoreline, made things difficult for Poland whose 4-0 success in Tbilisi in June greatly flattered them.

You do not need to look too deeply into the hosts' squad to feel a shiver.

Third-choice goalkeeper Giorgi Makaridze has returned to the fold having kept a clean sheet as an unheard of 17-year-old against Miller and co eight years ago.

He wasn't the only Georgian teenager to start that night; the other two are also in new coach Kakhaber Tskhadadze's pool.

Levan Kenia of Slavia Prague and the opening goalscorer that night, Levan Mchedlidze, are also looking to haunt the Scots for a second time. Mchedlidze famously scored in what was his first ever senior match; he had still to play for his club Empoli, where he remains to this day.

Now 25, he is favourite to lead the line on Friday.

A surprise inclusion is experienced defender Zurab Khizanishvili who will hope to earn his 91st cap, two years after his 90th.

The former Dundee and Rangers player is currently with Azerbaijani side Inter Baku who his national coach swapped for his new role.

Scotland score against Georgia in October, 2014
Shaun Maloney's shot was diverted into the net to give Scotland victory over Georgia

Tskhadadze - who starred for Manchester City alongside compatriot and Georgian legend Georgi Kinkladze - replaced the less pragmatic Temuri Ketsbaia last December.

His son Bachana is a striker who is also in the squad, with both leaving Baku this year.

The adage about building a team from the back has been Tskhadadze's mantra. A five-man defence would not be a surprise given he deployed those tactics against Germany, Poland and in a summer friendly defeat to Ukraine.

Indeed, two of the most valuable players in the squad are defence-minded, in Rubin Kazan centre-half Solomon Kvirkvelia and captain Jaba Kankava who plays for Reims in France.

It is likely to be a stuffy night requiring cool heads.

When the Scots lost on that only previous visit to Georgia, they were chasing a seventh victory on the bounce for the first time in 80 years.

A team in form tripped up, not to the Italians or their World Cup runners-up France, not even the quarter finalists Ukraine, but Georgia.

The Germans, Poles and Irish have not derailed Strachan's men as yet, but he knows they can ill-afford more Tbilisi turmoil as the road to France encounters a precarious hurdle.

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