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Georgia take upper hand

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

By Vakhtang Bzikadze at Lokomotivi stadium

[1] Albania were brought back down to earth by Georgia after their surprise victory against European champions Greece last Saturday.

Early leaders

[2] The Georgians quickly grasped the initiative at the Lokomotivi stadium in Tblisi and never let their opponents settle in a fierce encounter. Coach Alain Giresse was leading his team for the first time in a competitive home match and, following an excellent 1-1 draw in Turkey at the weekend, his team find themselves as the early pace-setters in Group 2.

Glorious pass

[3] Georgia made a dream start when FC Lokomotiv Moskva midfielder Malkhaz Asatiani produced a glorious pass to set up Aleksandr Iashvili who went one on one with the goalkeeper and kept his nerve to score in the 15th minute. However, Giresse - who had welcomed back Levan Kobiashvili and Iashvili after they missed the Turkey game - saw his side struggle to build on their early lead.

Upper hand

[4] Indeed Georgia were relieved to see goalkeeper Akaki Devadze pull off a fine save to deny Igli Tare, when the Albanian striker looked likely to score. Georgia - without injured defender Zurab Khizanishvili - retained the upper hand, however, and as the second half progressed could have added to their lead when Kobiashvili sent a free-kick just wide in the 70th minute.

Tense time

[5] Giresse handed a debut to 18-year-old prodigy Jaba Kankava, sending him on for Asatiani in an effort to seize control of the central midfield. However, the highly regarded FC Dinamo Tbilisi defensive midfield player started nervously and was cautioned within seconds of his arrival. The tension in Tbilisi was lifted slightly with ten minutes to play when Albania defender Elvin Bequiri upended Levan Tskitishvili and earned a red card. However, that seemed to spur on the visitors and Ervin Shkela and Alban Bushi both came close to an equalising goal.

Crunch meeting

[6] The second goal finally came from substitute Georgi Demetradze when he connected with a Tskitishvili cross to secure the three points in the 89th minute. Georgia sit proudly on top of the section but are level with Ukraine, whom they meet in Kiev in their next qualifying match on 9 October.

Aleksandr Iashvili scored the first goal