Georgia looking skywards after return to top 100

  • Georgia sit in 100th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking

  • It is the nation's highest ranking since 2014

  • Vladimir Weiss: "We've got a young, eager team"

"It wasn't easy when I started out as Georgia national team head coach. It was a new challenge in my coaching career. I quickly noticed how talented Georgian players are but I also realised straight away that we would need to work very hard in order to be successful."

With those words Vladimir Weiss summarised his first two years in his role in an interview with The Slovakia-born tactician took over the reins from Kakhaber Tskhadadze in March 2016 in what was a difficult period for the eastern European country. They had slipped down to 137th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – their worst ever position was 154th in 2015 – and they never got close to qualifying for UEFA EURO 2016.

However, new shoots of hope have sprouted since the 53-year-old has been at the helm. An eye-catching 1-0 victory over Spain shortly after his appointment made opposing teams sit up and take notice, and Weiss has slowly but surely been tweaking his side ever since. Now, in early spring 2018, they have returned to the top 100 in the global ranking. "Our strength is that we have a young, eager team," he said. "We don't have the big individual stars like we used to, such as [current Georgian FA president] Levan Kobiashvili and [former AC Milan player] Kakhaber Kaladze, but we're a unit. Everyone has to be at peak fitness, then we have a chance to achieve great things.

"Georgia traditionally have technically adept players who are good on the ball," Weiss continued. "But we also need to learn to work hard when we don't have possession and to defend well. Before I arrived, the team frequently conceded four or five goals a game and would lose heavily. During World Cup qualification you could see that we've taken a step forward and can make the matches a lot closer. We don't concede as much anymore. Now we have to take the next step and find a healthy balance between defence and attack because we need to score more goals if we're to win games. But I've got faith in the team, which is why I signed a new contract here."

Georgia managed to earn five points during 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying, but it was ultimately only enough to finish second from bottom in Group D. "We had a really strong group but nevertheless picked up five draws," Weiss said. "I don't like talking about luck or bad luck in football because at the end of the day it's always the quality that's decisive. We need to improve in certain areas if we want to get better results in future." If the past is anything to go by, Georgian football certainly has the potential to grow, as it was exactly 20 years ago that the team climbed to its best-ever position of 52nd.

Squad goals Weiss is well aware of what it takes to lead a supposed underdog to success, having guided his native Slovakia to the last 16 on their World Cup debut at South Africa 2010. In doing so they beat none other than four-time World champions Italy in the group stage. "I'd love to do that with Georgia too," he said. "It would be fantastic."

The team's next challenge arrives in Autumn 2018 with the start of the UEFA Nations League. Weiss believes it is exactly the kind of tournament that can give smaller countries the chance to achieve something extraordinary, as the new format suits them. The Jvarosnebi will face Kazakhstan (ranked 136th), Latvia (132nd) and Andorra (137th) twice this year and are the highest ranked team of that quartet. The dream of a maiden qualification for a major tournament therefore seems feasible.

Before then, though, Weiss will be a keen observer of the upcoming World Cup. "I'll be in Russia," he said. "I was over there just recently to watch some of my players in the Moscow derby between Lokomotiv and Spartak. The World Cup stadiums look wonderful. People love football in Russia and during my time there as coach I also took the game and the country into my heart. I hope and believe it's possible for Russia to host the best World Cup of all time."