Georgia may appeal as Fifa orders change of venue


INTERNATIONAL SOCCER: THE GEORGIAN Football Federation is expected to wait until after this evening's game against Wales in Swansea before making a decision on whether to appeal Fifa's ruling that next month's World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland be moved from Tbilisi to a neutral venue.

Speaking from Swansea last night, federation spokesman Alexander Tsonbiladze said he was "shocked" by Fifa's decision but added that the organisation was concentrating all of its energies on tonight's match. "It's very important to us to show the world that our footballers and our people can still do their jobs in spite of what has happened," he said.

Fifa confirmed yesterday it was open to the Georgians to appeal the decision that they name an alternative venue by next Tuesday. No deadline was set for such an appeal but one of the organisation's officials stated it would have to be lodged "as soon as possible".

Though clearly disappointed with yesterday's developments, Tsonbiladze sounded uncertain about the prospects of any appeal the federation might launch.

"The Fifa decision has come as a shock to me and to all of the people of Georgia because we hoped to play this game against Ireland in Tbilisi. Right now they say that we cannot play but I don't know what the situation will be in three weeks," he said.

"We are in contact with our government and with people who can advise us on whether the Irish team might arrive in Tbilisi but I don't think any decision on what to do will be made for another day or two. We can appeal, but I'm not so sure that Fifa would change their mind."

The Georgians, Tsonbiladze revealed, had learned of Fifa's decision yesterday from the international body's website.

"It's hugely disappointing because it's our first qualifier, a crucial game and we worked very hard at the fixtures meeting," said federation president Nodar Aklialkatsi. "But we have a bigger situation back at home and it won't matter where we play. The players will use this as a bigger motivation against Ireland to get a result."

A measure of the Georgia federation's ongoing problems is that the team will play tonight's game in a makeshift kit, much of which has been donated by a Welsh sportswear company because they arrived with only shirts - which did not have numbers or names.

Although something may have been lost in translation, the Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni appeared surprised by the development at last night's pre-match press conference, several hours after the news had first broken. After initially appearing to misunderstand a question about the decision and starting to talk about the need to await word from Fifa, he looked startled to hear a change of venue had been ordered and quickly asked journalists where the game would be played.

After being told no decision on that would be made until next week he sighed and expressed some sympathy for the plight of Ireland's rivals.

"I'm upset for the Georgians. I apologise to them," he said. "But what can I do? I've said before that a decision was needed and that it's important to respect the calendar (group schedule).

"Playing on the 6th of September is important but first we have the game tomorrow, then we can talk of the 6th of September.

"We have a saying in Italy," he continued, "that we start with the first course and then we go on."

The Ireland captain, Robbie Keane, dismissed the suggestion the Irish might gain an unfair advantage from the decision to change venue. "I think it's important that we played the game," he said.

"The players were looking forward to playing the two games (Ireland play Montenegro four days after Georgia). I know it's not in Georgia now but the reality is that the decision's been made and we have to respect it. It's been out of our hands.

"The reality is that a decision had to be made for the safety of the players, the fans who were going to travel over there - and even the media."

Earlier, Fifa had said that it had reached its decision, "after closely monitoring the situation in Georgia and taking note that Uefa also decided to ask Georgian clubs involved in Uefa competitions to play their matches in neutral countries".

The decision cited involved a second-qualifying-round Uefa Cup tie between WIT Georgia and Austria Vienna, the first leg of which was originally supposed to have taken place last week.

The Georgian club was ordered to move the game to a neutral venue and nominated Rize, in neighbouring Turkey.

Subsequently, however, the Georgian federation notified Uefa that the club could not travel to the town and it was decided that the tie would be decided by a one-off game in Vienna next Thursday.

In the event the Georgians fail to appeal Fifa's decision on the Ireland game or lose an appeal, then Turkey is among the more likely alternative host nations.

A switch to one of Georgia's other southern neighbours Armenia or Azerbaijan is also a distinct possibility.

A Fifa official confirmed yesterday the only formal restriction on the Georgians as they ponder their options is that the game may not be moved to another of the countries in the same World Cup qualifying group.