Tournament hosts Georgia overcame a depleted Sweden thanks to two first-half goals to keep their qualification hopes alive in Tbilisi yesterday.
The Georgian’s were in buoyant mood in their capital city, after not getting the result they deserved against Portugal and started the game on the front foot. With two and a half minutes on the clock, forward Giorgi Kokhreidze put the hosts ahead after some shambolic defending from the boys in yellow and blue. The 18-year-old latched onto a loose ball that was misplaced by Max Svensson and needed no second opportunity to blast the ball into the roof of the net. The early goal came in ironic circumstances after Georgia failed to find their touch in front of goal in the opener against Portugal, a game in which Kokhreidze was forced off with injury on 35 minutes. However, the Swede’s were quick to react with some pressure of their own, but were unable to make the most of a series of early corners and free-kicks.
Overall, Sweden failed to get any kind of grip on the game in the first half and were soon made to pay for leaving themselves too open at the back. After an end to end 10 minutes of the tie, Georgia finally found a decisive second goal through midfielder Giorgi Chakvetadze. The ball was superbly won back in midfield by Giorgi Kutsia and then laid off to the 17-year-old who went on a dazzling from his own half to become one on one with Marko Johansson in the Swedish net. Chakvetadze’s shot deflected off the Malmo man and looped high into the far right-hand corner after bouncing once and beating defender Thomas Isherwood. The home side had got off to a blistering start in the first game of Match Day Two of The 2017 European U19 Championship, but there was still the matter of a comeback from the visitors to deal with.
Claes Eriksson immediately made a change in the Sweden dugout, opting to replace Besard Sabovic with Samuel Adrian who started in the opening defeat to The Czech Republic. The change would bring no immediate improvement for the visitors and it could have been 3-0 just moments later as Giorgi Arabidze failed to beat Johansson from close range. Despite having to pick the ball out of his own net twice, the Swedish shot stopper was having quite some game and was called on again just before half-time to deny Georgia a third through Giorgi Kochorashvili. As the half-time whistle blew, Georgia were beginning to dream of a first ever European U19 Finals win.
The second-half would bring a comeback from the Swede’s as they played for their place at the tournament. The second Sweden substitute of the game saw defensive midfielder Carl Johansson replaced by forward Isac Lidberg at half-time, and just minutes later it would pay off with the visitors being handed a lifeline. A fantastic run and cross by Anton Kralj allowed Victor Gyokeres to finish low past Giorgi Chochishvili and pull one back for his team. Sweden were now chasing the game, with the memory of failing to recover in similar fashion against The Czech Republic fresh in their minds.
The big awaited comeback from Eriksson’s men never really came, as the last half an hour or so saw chances fall to both teams. However, a stern Georgia defence were able to keep Sweden at bay, thus eliminating them at the group stages of the tournament. The final whistle brought up an immense cheer from the home fans in Tbilisi as the nation of Georgia celebrated a historic victory, but Sweden were left to reminisce about what could have been after two consecutive 2-1 defeats.
George Kipiani will now take his elated Georgia side to play for a place in the Semi-Finals in a winner takes all clash with The Czech Republic on Saturday in Tbilisi. Whereas, Sweden will have the chance to take something from the competition when they face already qualified opposition in Portugal on the same day in Gori.