Martin O’Neill looks to lead the Republic of Ireland to the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Aiden McGeady’s stunning last gasp strike snatched victory for the Republic of Ireland in Martin O’Neill’s first competitive game in charge.

Three years on he is heading back to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi with qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup a realistic possibility.

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Georgia are dwelling in the lower echelons of the UEFA rankings but they are capable of getting a result against anyone – they defeated Spain in Madrid just before Euro 2016 and have drawn with the likes of France and Italy.

Their record against the Republic of Ireland, however, is poor having lost all eight games, although some of those victories have involved more than a degree of good fortune.

It took a late Gary Doherty winner to take the points on the other previous trip to Tbilisi in 2003.

Georgia’s recent visits to Dublin have resulted in one goal defeats with the hosts delighted to hear the final whistle.

In contrast, Wales were a little fortunate to earn even a point when Georgia visited Cardiff last October.

It was the first time the Welsh avoided defeat in four games against the side from the Caucasus region.

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Serbia game

Martin O’Neill will not just have Georgia on his mind as Serbia visit Dublin four days later.

After these games, the likely winner of Group D will be a lot clearer.

Serbia top the group on goal difference, and only the winners qualify automatically so the game on September 5th will prove crucial.

Serbia will surely defeat Moldova in Belgrade and are unlikely to miss out of goal difference; a result in Dublin will make them warm favourites to qualify.

Six points is the September target for the Irish, while Wales or Austria could yet snatch the runners-up spot, but automatic qualification appears beyond them.

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Playoff peril

With the possibility of Italy, Portugal and maybe even France being in the October playoff draw, the best hope of qualification lies in winning Group D.

The omens from O’Neill’s previous campaign may just point to two Irish wins but maybe the smart money will be on a narrow win in Tbilisi and a 1-1 draw in Dublin.

The Euro 2016 qualification campaign looked doomed after a dreadful defeat in Glasgow and successive 1-1 home draws against Poland and Scotland.

Georgia breathed life into to Republic’s campaign by defeating Scotland, while a shock 1-0 win for the Boys In Green over World Champions Germany was a huge boost.

This was followed by an impressive playoff dismissal of the Bosnian challenge.

The hope would be that another late run will regain control of the group after successive home draws against Wales and Austria relinquished this.

The Welsh result was understandable given key injuries and the suspension of Robbie Brady but the flat performance against a poor Austrian side in June was more difficult to understand.

This came just a week after an impressive high tempo defeat of Uruguay in a friendly.

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Injury doubts

Jeff Hendrick and James McCarthy are the main absentees from the trip to Tbilisi, with Jon Walters remaining a doubt.

The word from the Georgian camp is that they could be missing key players through injury, including Tornike Okriashvili who scored the last time O’Neill’s men visited Tbilisi.

These stories are always taken with a pinch of salt but the hosts have little to play for but pride.

No fan of either side will need reminding that Scotland travelled to Tbilisi at the same stage in the last campaign and were soundly beaten, suffering what proved a fatal blow to their qualification hopes.

However, Martin O’Neill’s teams always seem to get the job done when they meet the likes of Georgia.

Three points should be attainable, setting up a winner takes all tie againt Serbia.

The Author

Gary Spain

Limerick born, Dublin based fan of Limerick FC and the Republic of Ireland national team. Gary has a keen interest in football across the island of Ireland and worldwide. He is a contributor to the Republic of Ireland and Limerick FC programmes and to Northern Ireland Football magazine.

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