Jaba Kanakava may be best remembered for saving an opponents life during a club match when he prevented him from swallowing his tongue. But the Georgian captain will be very familiar to Irish fans, having lined out against Ireland numerous times in recent years.
The 2020 European Championship is the third major tournament qualification group in a row in which Ireland and Georgia have met.
However history has favoured Ireland in this fixture, as the boys in Green have won with Ireland winning four of the five games between the nations in this period, the most recent of which was a 1-0 win in the Aviva Stadium last month, which will be remembered more for the now infamous tennis ball protests against the FAI and John Delaney.
Although Georgia enjoyed some success against Ireland in recent times, outplaying them in their last home fixture in Tbilisi in 2017, it was only good enough for a draw, which remains their best ever result against Mick Mc Carthy’s men, a record which Kankava wants to improve upon.
“Unfortunately, we still have a very bad balance of personal matches, we have never defeated Ireland,” he said. “This upsets us, this year we will do everything to change it.” Despite playing an attacking based game Georgia finished fifth in the qualifying group for the World Cup, on five points, behind Serbia, Ireland Wales and Austria and currently lie bottom of group D on zero following two defeats in their opening two matches. While their style of play is easy on the eye, it does not always mean you come out on the right side of the tie, which Kankava acknowledges.
“We played good attacking football, but, unfortunately, this football does not always give the result.”
However, Georgian football is moving in the right direction, and 2018 saw them win their group in the Nations League, a competition which Kankava believes greatly helps lower ranked teams.
“In my view, the Nations League helps a lot for countries like Georgia, which are not on the top of the [FIFA] rankings,” he claimed. “It helps us to develop; we have the opportunity to get a unique chance to
play [in the] Euro’s.”
Their cause has also been aided by strong leadership within the Georgian FA and the government, and by the players taking responsibility for the jersey.
“The state has a plan designed for several years,” the experienced midfielder revealed.
“They are investing to help the local championship and Federation to develop this sport. We have new leadership of the Federation headed by Levan Kobiashvili, who knows everything about Georgian football from the inside. “We have a great responsibility because the national team is a mirror of how football works. We know that if we get to the Euro[s], it will be a very big step for the development of Georgian football and the great advertising of our country.”