Football: Georgians to graft for recognition

Mike Rowbottom discovers a squad driven by the dynamics of nationalism; WORLD CUP: Kinkladze passes on inside information on England while Swedes prepare midfield trap for Brown's men
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The Independent Online
Two potent factors will motivate the men of Georgia in Wembley's wide open spaces tonight - national pride and personal advancement.

The Georgians are still seeking their first goal in the World Cup group after defeats by Italy and England. But there is an overriding objective for a nation which has only recently established its independence at a bloody cost.

"We must show what we can do because not many people know where Georgia is or what kind of country it is," said the team's new coach, David Kipiani, yesterday. "We will be playing in a big stadium in a big footballing country, and it will be stimulating to our players."

Not least, as Kipiani observed, because the audience will include coaches and managers on the look-out for talented players to follow in the steps of the two best known Georgians.

Georgi Kinkladze has established himself as an idol at Manchester City in the last two years, and Temur Ketsbaia, a 29-year-old forward has this week agreed to join Newcastle United from AEK Athens in a deal said to be yielding him an annual salary of pounds 400,000.

Not many of the Georgian team play for glamorous clubs, so international matches are their opportunity to establish a market value. Kipiani pointed out that Manchester City were finally persuaded to go for Kinkladze after seeing him play in a 1-0 win over Wales in Cardiff.

In the last few days, Kinkladze has been giving his colleagues the benefit of his insider information on the English game - all too avidly, according to Kipiani. "I prefer the players listening more to me," he said with a rueful grin.

But the coach, whose only previous game in charge yielded a 7-0 win over Armenia, welcomes the value which overseas experience brings to the national team. "If you had seen Kinkladze three years ago, and seen him now - he has grown up as a player, physically and tactically," he said.

The prospect of all that acumen being eroded by the attentions of David Batty tonight did not generate any alarm in Kipiani's rugged features. "I am never afraid," he said. "This is football not war."

Now 46, Kipiani played in the Dynamo Tbilisi team which earned European victories over Liverpool and West Ham in 1979 and 1981, respectively.

"I know English football well," he said, singling out Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince and Teddy Sheringham as world class players. "It is very important not to be afraid of them. English players always give 100 per cent effort - you must try to do the same."

Kipiani - who describes English players as "real gentlemen" who never kick from behind (are you listening, David Batty?) - objected to reports in some papers that England had won easily in Georgia last November.

"It was not an easy game," he said. "Nobody can tell you what would have happened if we had scored first. There were two mistakes for us in defence, and it was finished."

Ketsbaia said the players regarded that 2-0 defeat as "an accident", adding: "We can play better than that. We have maybe a 30 per cent chance at Wembley. It will be the biggest game of my life."

Newcastle's new man said that the weight of expectation on the home side could be one of the main factors in Georgia's favour on the night. "The country expects England to qualify," he said. "We don't have that sort of pressure. If we finish third in the group it will be a good effort. We have a lot of young players coming through."

And, perhaps, moving on.

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