"What matters to me is that we play well as a team. We’re not satisfied at the moment, because we should have more points than we actually do. We’re a good team, but we have to go out and prove that on the field of play." These were the words of Georgia striker Alexander Iashvili in a recent interview with FIFA.com.
Taking the player’s statement at face value, you might imagine Georgia had made a poor start to qualifying for UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. However, the current Group F standings tell a different story, as the Jvarosnebi are unbeaten in third spot after four matches.
There is a breezy, confident look to coach Timour Ketsbaia’s side at present, and the sparkling form shown by Iashvili and his team-mates has made them one of the standout upward-movers in the latest edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
Back in the top 100
For the first time in almost two years, the men from the Caucasus have broken back into the top 100, and should they maintain their recent progress, they can justifiably expect to climb even higher in the months to come.
The team captained by Genoa star Kakha Kaladze last lost a match exactly a year ago. Georgia were routed 6-2 by Bulgaria in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, but that sobering setback also set in motion a series of events which promise a bold new era in the nation’s football.
The most obvious change was in the position of head coach. Ketsbaia relieved luckless Argentinian Hector Cuper in November 2009, and must take much of the credit for restoring the national team’s fortunes.
Two wins, five draws and no defeats
The new boss led Georgia to a 2-1 victory over Estonia and a 1-0 success against Malta. Their five draws include creditable results against South Africa 2010 participants Cameroon (0-0) and Greece (1-1).
Another factor is a new-found defensive solidity. After shipping half-a-dozen in Sofia in mid-October last year, the defence was breached just three times in the next seven matches, coutesy of a powerful back line centred on Kaladze, Blackburn Rovers' Zurab Khizanishvili, and keeper Nukri Revishvili of Anzhi Makhachkala.
The midfield strings are expertly pulled by 33-year-old Levan Kobiashvili. The Tibilisi-born enforcer switched to Germany back in 1998 and currently plays his football for second division Hertha Berlin. The Georgia No10 has earned 93 caps and is by far the longest-serving player in Ketsbaia’s squad.
Potent attacking blend
In attack, Ketsbaia has also kept the faith in another seasoned Bundesliga campaigner, who now has 13 seasons in Germany under his belt. Iashvili has made 60 appearances in national colours and scored the goal which earned a 1-1 away draw with the Greeks in EURO 2012 qualifying.
Experience is paired with youth in the shape of 24-year-old Vladimir Dvalishvili. The dangerous sharp-shooter, currently on the books at Maccabi Haifa in Israel, made his full international debut in June 2009, and has started three of his country’s four EURO 2012 qualifiers to date.
Another of Ketsbaia’s attacking options is provided by David Siradze of Russian outfit Spartak Nalchik. Siradze struck in last Tuesday’s away meeting with Latvia to earn another valuable point in their quest for a place in Poland and Ukraine.
No-one can say how long Georgia’s purple patch will last, but the team will surely draw inspiration and confidence from their recent fine form. If they can keep up the momentum, Kobiashvili, Iashvili and Co will assuredly make further progress up the Ranking in the months to come.