Football/Soccer

Anything is possible in Tbilisi as the road narrows for Republic of Ireland

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy knows his side will face a tough assignment in Georgia this evening
From Brendan Crossan in Tbilisi

2020 European Qualifying Group D: Georgia v Republic of Ireland: (today, Boris Paichadze National Arena, 2pm Irish time)

 

IN the dust bowl of Tbilisi they drive like maniacs. There are no road markings and no discernible rules.

Here, no prisoners are taken.

Just a short, white-knuckle taxi ride away from the centre of the city sits the Boris Paichadze national stadium in permanent, resplendent sunshine.

Like the city’s weaving, chaotic traffic, the Georgian footballers play off-the-cuff too, with no discernible rules, apart from keeping the ball away from their opponents for long swathes.

Last month, they should have beaten Denmark here but had to settle for a scoreless draw.

They have just one win to their name out of five in Group D. But, as is always the story with Georgia, they should be higher up the group than they are.

They have played the Republic of Ireland 10 times since 2003 [nine competitive encounters] and have yet to beat them.

In keeping with the anarchic feel to the capital, Georgian coach Vladimir Weiss likened the Irish to Michael Flatley and Riverdance at his pre-match press conference yesterday.

When asked about his counterpart’s weird description, Mick McCarthy needed further explanation.

“I don't know how to answer that, I'm not usually stuck for words,” shrugged the Republic of Ireland manager.

When it was explained to him that Weiss felt Ireland had Flatley’s energy, McCarthy replied: “Oh, I see. I thought he meant we had good feet when we got the ball.

“I think when someone describes you as someone who is as brilliant as Michael Flatley, such a wonderful performer and dancer, and a good guy, actually, I will take that as a huge compliment of my team.”

While the Georgians are notoriously erratic, McCarthy’s squad appears to have a good clear eye on the road ahead.

A pair of wins against Georgia today and Switzerland in Geneva on Tuesday night would see them qualify for Euro 2020 with a game to spare.

But it’s now the road starts to narrow for those two qualification berths at next summer's Euro finals.

Shane Duffy has shrugged off a calf injury and will play at the heart of the Irish defence this evening, but the Ireland manager refused to be drawn on the prospect of promoted U21 star Aaron Connolly starting in attack, with David McGoldrick ruled out.

“Well, he’s in the squad so he’s got a chance,” McCarthy said. “He’s been very good and hasn’t looked out of place in training.”

In a place like Tbilisi anything can happen…

Republic of Ireland (probable): Randolph, Coleman, Doherty, Duffy, Egan, Whelan, Hourihane, Hendrick, Robinson, Collins, McClean.

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