Dramatic Siradze Winner gives Georgia Hope for EURO 2012
Monday, October 11It took a last-gasp goal to earn Georgia a precious 1-0 win over Malta at the drenched Boris Paichadze National Stadium on Friday 8 October, their first competitive win in three years.
Substitute David Siradze leaped to head home the winner in the 90th minute to finally give the Georgian fans a victory to savour.
Georgia's last meaningful win came against Alex McLeish's Scotland in October 2007 and although Malta are not of the same pedigree as the Scots, this was nonetheless a joyous night for the home side.
Head coach Temur Ketsbaia was understandably thrilled after the match: “This is our first win here since beating Scotland in October 2007, and I'm sure it will give the players a huge psychological boost. The players gave everything they had tonight even if, at times, we lacked some creativity.”
The beaming Ketsbaia continued, looking forward to Tuesday's match against Latvia: “I should have more options as some players return from injury and/or suspension. Tonight was difficult because we were perhaps the favourites. It suits us when we can play a more tactical game, which we will do in Latvia.”
After encouraging draws in their opening Group F matches against Greece and Israel, Georgia were strong favourites against the Maltese and a crowd in the region of 40,000 braved the Tbilisi deluge in expectation of that elusive triumph.
However, the first half did little to warm Georgian souls on a dreich night as Ketsbaia’s side lacked any real urgency or fluency in their very occasional attacking moves.
Malta were comfortable in possession and put together some attractive passing moves without ever really threatening the Georgian goal.
Georgia's laboured approach restricted them to shots from long range and Gogita Gogua had their only notable effort in the first half in the 17th minute; his fizzing shot was parried by Justin Haber.
The half-time whistle was met with a chorus of booing from the Georgian faithful who were quite rightly not impressed with such an insipid display in the opening period.
However, Ketsbaia rang the changes at the interval, making a double substitution which was to prove significant. Siradze and Alexandre Iashvili were brought on to replace the ineffectual Giorgi Merebashvili and Vladimer Dvalishvili.
The changes quickly made a positive impact as Siradze did well to knock the ball down for Malkhaz Asatiani who swivelled to fire a powerful shot straight at Haber in the 49th minute.
Seconds later, the Georgian crowd were back to their noisy best as full-back Lasha Salukvadze’s teasing cross found the head of Gogua who headed inches wide with Haber stranded.
The midfielder should have scored but the near miss had given the home fans something about which to get excited and the volume levels began to rise.
In the 56th minute, Jano Ananidze’s lofted free-kick was only partially cleared by the Maltese defence and when the ball fell to Iashvili, his stinging drive was blocked by a wall of Malta defenders in the goalmouth.
Georgia were in the ascendancy but left some gaps in defence, which Malta should have cruelly exposed in the 78th minute. Andre Schembri was set up by Shaun Bajada and Schembri was denied by a heroic save from Nukri Revishvili before the ball was scrambled clear.
In the last ten minutes, Georgia started to pile on the pressure. The lively Gogua cut inside from the left in the 83rd minute before unleashing a fierce strike which Haber smothered at the second attempt in his muddied six-yard box.
Three minutes later, defender Asatiani sauntered through the Maltese defence, beating five men before squaring for Siradze who saw his sliding shot deflected wide.
As the seconds drifted by, it looked as though Georgia were destined for a third straight draw but soon the plot thickened.
Kaladze teed himself up on the left wing from where he delivered an inch-perfect cross for the towering Siradze who bulleted a header viciously past Haber and into the Maltese net. Wild celebrations followed both on and off the pitch as the players and fans got an all too rare taste of sweet victory.
The Georgian team now face Latvia in Riga tomorrow where three points would put Georgia firmly in the Group F mix for Euro 2012 qualification.
Georgia:Revishvili, Salukvadze, Asatiani, Kaladze, Amisulashvili, Khizanishvili, Gogua, Ananidze (Daushvili 73), Merebashvili (Siradze 46), Kobiashvili, Dvalishvili (Iashvili 46).
Subs not used: Loria, Gelashvili, Kvirkvelia, Koshkadze.
Malta: Haber, Caruana, Mamo, Sciberras(R Fenech 68), Agius, Briffa, Mifsud, Cohen(Grima 89), Bajada, Schembri (P Fenech 79), Pace.
Subs not used: Hogg, Sammut, Herrera, Zerafa.
Booked: Carlo, Cohen, Schembri.