Gordon Strachan and Scotland must bounce back in tricky Georgian test
Scotland (odds-on favourites at 8/13 to triumph) know they must clinch a vital home win against Georgia, as Gordon Strachan attempts to guide his team through a tough Group D, also containing Germany and Poland.
The Tartan Terriers encountered the World Champions last time out, falling to a 2-1 defeat courtesy of a Thomas Muller double, but whilst they were praised for their efforts, anything less than victory here would be cause for concern.
Georgia, also known as the Crusaders, have been the bane of Scotland’s qualifying hopes before. The Caucasus country effectively ended the Tartan Terriers’ Euro 2008 ambitions by slaying the Scots 2-0, and are 9/2 to dent their plans again this time around.
With just two previous encounters between these two sides, the spoils have been split equally with one win apiece. However, the Scottish faithful can take comfort from the fact that their victory over the Crusaders came on home turf.
Kris Boyd and Craig Beattie netted the goals on that occasion, but it could be Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher who earns the nod for his nation this time around. The 27-year-old played the role of super-sub by setting up Scotland’s consolation goal against the Germans, before ending his own goal drought by bagging a brace for the Black Cats against Stoke.
With his confidence high, Strachan could select the in-form Fletcher (5/1 to score two or more again) to face a Georgian defence who conceded twice against the Republic of Ireland. A potential partnership with Everton’s Steven Naismith (4/1 to fire home first), who ran Manchester United ragged for the Toffees last time out, is tantalising and should be enough to snatch all three points.
Skipper and Celtic star Scott Brown should be fit to return in what would be a significant boost for the Tartan Terrriers, and Sporting Lisbon starlet Ryan Gauld (7/4 to crown his debut with a goal anytime) could be set to earn his first cap. The 18-year-old Dundee United product is yet to feature for the Portuguese giants, but is thrilled at the prospect of playing for his country.
Speaking after his ascent to the senior squad, Gauld stated: “I’ve dreamed about a Scotland call-up for a long time so I feel that I’m ready.
“At the end of the day you don’t know when a chance like this will come for you again so you have to make the most of it.”
Craig Gordon, who was between the sticks during Georgia’s famous win over his country, is also in the squad following his sensational Celtic form, but David Marshall should still keep his starting spot.
Georgia, meanwhile, are bullish considering their recent record against the hosts and will be looking to claim another surprise scalp.
Crusaders Coach and former Newcastle United midfielder Temuri Ketsbaia is apparently facing question marks over his position after defeat to the Republic of Ireland, but hinted that his stubborn side would attempt to stifle Scotland.
Kestbaia said recently: “We have not come here to lose the game. If we do what we have to do, I think we have a chance to get something from the game.”
The visitors will be without Empoli forward Levan Mchedlidze, who scored the opener goal when Georgia spoiled Scotland’s Euro 2008 qualifiers, and also defender Guram Kashia, but do have Spartak Moscow star Jano Ananidze ready to cause havoc.
The 21-year-old wing wizard has often been linked with a Premier League move, and has found the net three times for his country so far, making him likely to be one of their biggest threats going forward. Ananidze, and fellow wideman Tornike Okriashvili, who bagged a goal against the Republic of Ireland last time out, are both 7/2 to net anytime respectively.
Scotland and Georgia are 11/4 to split the spoils, but a draw would certainly be bad news for both teams, as Poland and Germany face off in what should be a thrilling match, and the Green Army should collect three points against minnows Gibraltar.