INTERNATIONAL football obsessive Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on Saturday's crunch World Cup qualifier between Georgia and Ireland.
Georgia v Republic of Ireland | Saturday 2nd September 2017, 17:00 | Sky Sports
Pitted in a devilishly difficult group alongside Wales, Austria and Serbia, Republic of Ireland fans will be delighted to see their side in contention for top spot with four games to play.
Martin O’Neill’s men are level with Serbia at the peak of the pool (W3-D3-L0) – the pair are separated only by goal difference – as we enter the final furlong. And the Irish head coach has admitted, “I would take any win against Georgia, any win.”
Tight recent meetings
The Boys In Green have plenty of recent history against the Georgians. The duo have clashed eight times over the past 14 years; the Republic have claimed victories in all eight encounters, scoring 16 goals and conceding just four.
It’s an impressive return but probably masks the awkwardness of the occasion. Georgia are no easy meat for Ireland; in fact, six of those triumphs have arrived by one-goal margins and it’s very rare to see the Black Sea boys blown away.
O’Neill’s charges did the double over the Eastern Europeans en-route to Euro 2016 but neither encounter was straightforward; Ireland needed a 90th minute winner from Aiden McGeady in Tbilisi and a 69th minute goal from Jon Walters when they met at the AVIVA.
It was a similar story in Dublin last year when Seamus Coleman sparred Irish blushes with the only goal of the game in a crucial 1-0 victory on matchday two of World Cup qualification. So with Jeff Hendrick and James McCarthy both absent from midfield, I’m certainly not expecting a walkover win.
O’Neill agrees. When responding to fanciful claims that Ireland could (or should) be considering attempting to improve their goal difference in this clash, he responded by saying, “This idea about racking up goals – we’re not a team that racks up a lot of goals, we haven't been for a long, long time.”
The Republic face lengthy flight to the former Soviet republic and will train at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena on Friday evening. And we must also factor in the weather; forecasts suggest it could be a scorching 30°C before kick-off with high humidity – that’s hardly ideal.
The hosts will be disappointed to find themselves just one point above Moldova. It’s been a tale of frustration for Vladimir Weiss’ men thus far (W0-D3-L3) with positive performances failing to reap rewards due to sloppy defensive errors and profligate finishing.
The Crusaders have hit the woodwork on six occasions already during this qualification campaign and have both out-shot 85-74 Ireland whilst also racking up more on-target attempts 24-18 than their visitors. Considering Georgia have sored in seven of their last eight qualifiers, they really do carry a threat.
Of their three defeats, two have arrived by one-goal margins whilst the 3-1 loss here to Serbia saw their guests grab the third goal just four minutes from time. That was only the second occasion in 22 Tbilisi qualifiers that Georgia had shipped more than two goals.
The betting angle
Admittedly, Georgia’s W4-D4-L15 competitive record is far from impressive – two of those triumphs came against Gibraltar – and with 12 defeats from their most recent 18 meaningful matches, odds on Ireland to succeed at 17/20 (Bet365) could easily appeal.
The Republic have W9-D7-L2 in their past 18 qualifiers since the road to Euro 2016 started but their return of only two shutouts in nine recent away qualifiers, alongside Georgia’s decent attacking pedigree, is enough for me to walk away from trappy odds-on prices.
Instead, I’ve sourced two more attractively-priced punts. I’ve already mentioned the trends in favour of the Republic to win by a one-goal margin at 12/5 (Betfair) whilst I’m also keen on taking Draw/Ireland at 18/5 (BetVictor) in the Half-Time/Full-Time market.
The Boys In Green have managed just two first-half goals during this qualifying campaign and have been level at the interval in six of their past seven away qualifiers, excluding Gibraltar but including trips to Moldova and Georgia.