საქართველო / Sakartvelo / Georgia
- Capital: Tbilisi / თბილისი
- Official Languages: Georgian, Abkhazian
- Nicknames: ჯვაროსნები / Jvarosnebi (Crusaders)
- Association: Georgian Football Federation (GFF) / საქართველოს ფეხბურთის ფედერაცია
- FIFA Code: GEO
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 42nd (September 1998)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 88th (December 2009, December 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 156th (March 1994)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 133rd (December 2014)
- Most Capped Player: Levan Kobiashvili – 100 caps
- Top Scorer: Shota Arveladze – 26 goals
The country of Georgia (საქართველო) is located in the western half of the Caucasus region, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, in UEFA’s northeastern corner of its domain. Originally an important republic within the Soviet Union, they have a number of former USSR republics bordering them with Russia to the north, Azerbaijan to the southeast, and Armenia to its south, whilst Turkey shares a land border along Georgia’s southwestern frontier. Despite having an extensive and interesting history, the country only regained its independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union was collapsing, with Georgia becoming a full member of UEFA and FIFA in the following year. Georgia’s first official international coming in September 1992 when they were defeated 1-0 by Lithuania in Kaunas.
Since independence, the Georgian team have been unable to qualify for either a European Championships or World Cup. They impressed in their first qualification campaign for Euro 1996 when they finished third in their group, with the highlight being a 5-0 demolition of Wales during the campaign, although that has been their best group finish in qualification so far. They did finish in third position in their five team group for the 2002 World Cup qualifying round, but have otherwise finished in the bottom two places in their group for subsequent Euro or World Cup qualifiers. Georgia are also considered to be a third-tier European nation as they will be playing in Division C for the next edition of the UEFA Nations League.
Nonetheless, the Georgians were very close to qualifying for their first major tournament as an independent nation, when they were given a chance to qualify for Euro 2020/21 via Path D of the Nations League playoff route. The Crusaders defeated Belarus 1-0 in the semi-finals to set themselves up for a final against North Macedonia, which was being held in Tbilisi. Despite being the higher ranked team, and having home advantage, Georgia faltered in the playoff final and lost to a Goran Pandev goal which scuppered their dreams of qualifying for Euro 2020. Alas it looks tough for them to progress to the 2022 World Cup, as they’re currently competing within an incredibly tough group alongside Spain, Sweden, Greece, and Kosovo. However some impressive performances in the opening three group games, which included nearly taking points off Spain, have brought hope to the Georgian national team, and with a talented generation of players set to be promoted into the senior squad, perhaps the signs that Georgia’s fortunes can improve in the near future are looking promising…
Talking about a side who agonisingly missed out on qualification for Euro 2020/21 but look to have a promising future with a wave of talented young players coming into the national team, we interviewed the excellent Halftime at Midnight – Erovnuli Footy podcast. They are an English language podcast that focuses and discusses topics on all aspects of Georgian football, whether it be the domestic leagues, Georgian players playing abroard, or the fortunes of the national team. To find their social media accounts and podcast, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
We would divide this question in two parts; Georgia before independence, and Georgia after independence. Before, we would say the best coach was Nodar Akhalkatsi Jr. who managed that legendary team of Dinamo Tbilisi which won the UEFA Cup’s Winners Cup in 1981; as best player we might consider David Kipiani who became in the reference of every single Georgian football generation coming afterwards.
For Georgia after independence, we might say the best football played by the team was when David Kipiani was coaching the team, even when he did it together with Revaz Dzodzuashvili. As the best player we have to say, despite the glorious career of Kakha Kaladze in AC Milan, it still has to be Georgi Kinkladze.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
We believe we have to take two characters as cult heroes. First, from the earlier national team era, it has to be Georgi Kinkladze who is still the major inspiration of Georgian football players, and the country continues developing players based on his ability. The more current hero has to be Jaba Kankava [defensive midfielder currently playing at French side Valenciennes], the current main captain of the national team. Since the first minute of his presence in the squad he has been highly professional, completely dedicated and sacrificed for the team; and as a good hero, his outstanding behavior when he saved a rival’s – Oleg Gusev’s – life in Ukraine, with what he gained much more respect inside and outside of Georgia.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Georgian national side currently?
At this moment we would say it’s Kvicha Kvaratskhelia [20 year-old winger] – everything is working out properly for him in Rubin Kazan and in the national team, many eyes have seen how fast he has developed himself to become a true leader. But as part of the answer we could also mention other important characters as Georgi Chakvetadze [21 year-old attacking midfielder currently at Gent], Otar Kiteishvili [25 year-old attacking midfielder currently playing for Sturm Graz], and Jaba Kankava.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
It’s in the middle of a rebuild-phase, we have a new coach, new names, new generation coming up. Nobody knows what to expect but it looks quite promising after the first three matches of this new era. For the first time in many long years, Georgian football seems to finally find a link between its own style and modern football.
Q. Are there any Georgian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
The most exciting at this moment has to be Kvicha Kvaratskhelia, definitely; but we have some hopes on players like Georgi Khochorashvili [21 year-old midfielder at Levante], Luka Gagnidze [18 year-old midfielder currently at Dinamo Tbilisi], Georgi Tsitaishvili [20 year-old midfielder on loan at Vorskla Poltava from Dynamo Kyiv], Georges Mikautadze [20 year-old French-born forward who is on loan to Belgian side RFC Seraing from Metz] who just received the Georgian citizenship, among other youngsters. We believe Georgia is massively underestimated when it comes to football talent, and therefore we are happy to see that we are starting to see the impact now: We can proudly say that we have a bunch of young talented players, not just for our own standards, but players who potentially can make a mark in Europe.
Q. Looking at Georgia’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
For the modern generation we should mention the victory in March 2011 against Croatia in Tbilisi by a 1-0 scoreline, it was for the Euro 2012 qualifiers; not only because Georgia managed to beat a very strong team but also because of the way it happened (a last minute goal scored by another iconic player – Levan Kobiashvili). That match was also the 10th undefeated game in a row for the national team, which gave a lot of hopes to the fans. But there’s another game which has to be mentioned, during the first international qualifiers played by Georgia towards Euro 1996, the team managed to beat Bulgaria 2-1 in Tbilisi. Bulgaria was coming from a very successful World Cup in the United States in 1994, and therefore they were massive favorites against a new entry team as Georgia, making the victory over them even more impressive.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
We have lots of examples here unfortunately…But maybe the era of Héctor Cúper between 2008 and 2009 was the worst. After starting with a promising victory in a friendly match, he had an anti-record of 15 games without a single victory, achieving 4 draws and 11 losses, which ended in one of the worst matches played by the national team ever, losing to Bulgaria away 6-2 at the end of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Georgian national team?
The best thing is that you can still be happy even after losses, which is something you can’t do if you’re a fan of any ‘A-Nation‘, also you manage to enjoy football in its whole nature, the achievement of small goals are results of a huge effort and the taste of these achievements is simply wonderful. Georgian football teaches you to learn from small things and to appreciate them, to understand life is hard but you can still jump to the pitch with hopes and positive mindset. When you have a rising star, it becomes ten times bigger than when you have a star in any A-Nation, so it’s very exciting to embrace this special talent from a modest nation. The worst thing is that you never know what to expect in a match against anyone. Too many things depend on the way the team will play, inconsistency and the overall results are not enough to qualify to any major international tournament, which sometimes is frustrating.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Apart from hearing the national anthem, you can hear “Sakartvelo” (“Georgia” in Georgian) chants on the back, but, despite the GFF merchandising some songs throughout the years, they haven’t been adopted for singing by the fans on the stadium. But, the fan club or the “Qomagebi” who are usually in a down corner at the Dinamo Arena (Boris Paichadze National Stadium) have their own chants.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
Because of our jerseys looking very similar over the years now, we have to look back in time to select something particular. What comes to our mind is the unique design Georgia had under the Lotto brand, based on the old flag of the country. The uniform was wine colored, devanishing a bit in the middle, with some white stripes on the sides and black logos; very original and nice looking.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Georgian national team?
At this point our only wish is to have the complete squad fully healthy and available for international qualifying matches (we’re not spoiled with having a healthy squad unfortunately); but jokes aside (although it’s not a joke) we hope to qualify to a major tournament in the near future. This definitely has a special motivation after being so close last year. We guess we could positively aim for the Euro 2024.
A massive ძალიან დიდი მადლობა to Emir from the Erovnuli Footy podcast for answering our questions on the Jvarosnebi. Remember you can find their excellent accounts and podcast in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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