As has become a frequent occurrence, the Republic of Ireland take on Georgia tonight in a qualifier for a major tournament.
In fact, so common have Georgia been as an opponent, Brian Kerr, Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill all had their first competitive matches in charge of Ireland against them.
As was the case in the previous campaign for Euro 2016, O’Neill’s side will be looking for maximum points against a spirited but limited Georgian side looking to cause an upset.
As ever, there are a number of questions and talking points going into tonight’s game at the Aviva, as Ireland try to gain a foothold in this group following an indifferent showing in the 2-2 draw in Serbia last month.
O’Neill would have trimmed down his original 33-man squad anyway, but that so much of that was brought on by injuries wasn’t exactly ideal.
Stephen Quinn, Keiren Westwood, Daryl Murphy, Aiden McGeady, Kevin Doyle and Anthony Pilkington were all ruled out earlier in the week, while Harry Arter, Eunan O’Kane and James McCarthy remain doubts.
The likely starting lineup:
Your guess is as good as ours. Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, Jeff Hendrick, Jonathan Walters, Robbie Brady and Shane Long are pretty much guaranteed to start, but outside of that O’Neill has options.
A lot of it depends on James McCarthy. If the Everton man is to start, does that mean James McClean and/or Glenn Whelan miss out? Or Robbie Brady reverts back to full back with Stephen Ward dropping out? And who does he go with at centre-back out of John O’Shea, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark? Should Wes Hoolahan start?
At a sheer guess: Randolph, Coleman, O’Shea, Keogh, Ward, Whelan, Hendrick, Brady, McClean, Walters, Long (though given that this is the eleven that started against Serbia, O’Neill may change it up).
Don’t let their 137th FIFA world ranking fool you, this Georgian side is capable of causing Ireland problems.
It is worth noting that of the six competitive games played between the two nations, four have ended 2-1 to Ireland (with a couple of very close calls).
Under manager Vladimir Weiss, there is a youthful energy to this side. Of the 25-man squad called up for this match and the one against Wales on Sunday, only three are over the age of 30. The vast majority, in fact, are 25 or under.
Georgia have only won game so far in five attempts this year – but the fact that it was a 1-0 victory in Spain should at least warn the Boys in Green to be slightly more cautious of the potential threat at hand.
The Head-to Head Record:
On paper, a 100% record in seven matches is the reality, but the majority of those matches have been hard-fought and this one is unlikely to be any different.
- Georgia 1-2 Ireland (Euro 2004 Qualifier, 29/3/03)
- Ireland 2-0 Georgia (Euro 2004 Qualifier, 11/6/03)
- Georgia 1-2 Ireland (World Cup 2010 Qualifier, 6/9/10)
- Ireland 2-1 Georgia (World Cup 2010 Qualifier, 11/2/09)
- Ireland 4-0 Georgia (Friendly, 2/6/2013)
- Georgia 1-2 Ireland (Euro 2016 Qualifier, 7/9/14)
- Ireland 1-0 Georgia (Euro 2016 Qualifier, 7/9/15)
There’s no other way of putting this – victory tonight is absolutely essential to Ireland’s chances of qualification. Tougher tests against Serbia, Wales and Austria are coming down the line and if O’Neill and his team can’t get the job done at home against Georgia, it would cast the rest of this campaign in an extremely pessimistic light.
Georgia, for their part, will be hopeful – if not confident – of snatching a draw if they can catch Ireland on the hop.
The history of this fixture suggests that O’Neill’s side will in, but that it will not be a comfortable night at Lansdowne. In other words, the same as always against Georgia – a ground-out win by a single goal.