Georgia put brake on Wales’ World Cup ambitions
Tornike Okriashvili’s second-half equaliser earns side a point in Cardiff
Tomike Okriashvili heads home Georgia’s equaliser in the World Cup qualifier against Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images
Wales 1 Georgia 1
This was the day when the path to Russia started to become more complicated for Wales. Chris Coleman and his players need no telling that there is little margin for error in this World Cup qualification campaign, least of all when their opponents are drawn from pot six and ranked 137th in the world. Georgia, in fairness, are much better than their record suggests, yet there was no escaping the sense of disappointment at the final whistle.
Tornike Okriashvili’s second-half equaliser was met by near silence in the Welsh capital, with the sense of disbelief almost tangible. Wales, who had taken the lead early on through Gareth Bale’s 25th international goal, were not only unable to summon a response but fortunate that Georgia failed to score again.
Hearts were in mouths when Levan Mchedlidze ran clean through on goal in the 72nd minute only to shoot wide. Then Valeri Kazaishvili hit the crossbar with Wayne Hennessey beaten. Georgia, in other words, fully deserved a draw and it was strange to reconcile their performance with a team that have lost 20 of their past 26 competitive away games and won only once.
From a Wales point of view, there is no doubt that the injured Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey were badly missed, yet it was still alarming to see Georgia look so threatening. Wales pressed for a winner but everything was a little desperate, with Hal Robson-Kanu scuffing a half-chance two minutes from time.
The talk beforehand had been about the need to be patient, yet Wales started like a team in a hurry and it was Bale who gave them the perfect start. Towering above Solomon Kverkvelia, Bale met Joe Ledley’s inswinging corner with a thumping header from the edge of the six-yard box, leaving Giorgi Loria, the Georgia goalkeeper, with no chance. Coleman punched the air and Wales, with only 10 minutes on the clock, were up and running. Or so it seemed.
Bale was everywhere in the early stages, running half the length of the pitch with the ball one minute and hurling it into the area with a long throw the next. It still feels rather odd to see the second most expensive footballer in the world drying a ball with a towel before launching it as far as possible, yet the tactic worked in Austria last Thursday night and it seems to be here to stay.
While Wales were in total control in the first quarter of an hour – Andy King delivered a low centre that Bale was inches away from connecting with just prior to the opening goal – Georgia came back into the match and by half-time had enjoyed more possession and also struck the woodwork. Jano Ananidze’s superb 20-yard free-kick clipped the crossbar and, although a goal-kick was given afterwards, Hennessey appeared to get his fingertips to the ball.
Georgia were not afraid to mix it up at times. Murtaz Daushvili, who looked more like a prop than a central midfielder with his protective headgear and stocky frame, was booked for a poor challenge on Chris Gunter. A much bigger blow, however, was landed in the 57th minute.
With no pressure on the ball, Kazaishvili stepped inside Gunter and floated a cross towards the back post, where space had opened up in behind Neil Taylor for Okriashvili to exploit. Trying to get back, Taylor appealed in vain for offside but the flag stayed down – quite rightly – and Okriashvili headed into the far corner.
At that point the game came alive as chances came and went at both ends.
Bale’s free-kicked skimmed the roof of the net and Gunter’s cross just eluded Sam Vokes. Ananidze then forced Hennessey into a scrambled save and Mchedlidze squandered that wonderful opportunity to put Georgia ahead. Set free by Okriashvili’s pass, the Georgia centre forward had only Hennessey to beat but dragged his shot wide of the far upright. There was another reprieve for Wales 10 minutes from time, when Kazaishvili’s beautifully-struck shot came back off the crossbar.