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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Ireland may struggle to impose themselves

Boys in Green look short on attack in Georgia

Jon Walters (left) is likely to lead the line for Ireland
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World Cup qualifying
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Ireland have not finished top of a qualifying group for a major tournament since 1987 - on the road to Euro 1988 - and their chances of securing an automatic berth at World Cup 2018 could be damaged by a poor result against Georgia in Tbilisi.

It looks a two-way tussle for supremacy in Group D with Ireland level on points with leaders Serbia and four clear of Wales and Austria.

Ireland's fate is in their own hands and they could exert a stranglehold on the section if they secure wins away to Georgia and at home to Serbia in the next four days.

But they also have to be mindful of not giving the teams beneath them any encouragement

Any dropped points against Georgia could open the door to Wales, who host Ireland in Cardiff next month.

Martin O'Neill's side have an unblemished record in competitive matches against Georgia - winning seven out of seven - but they can expect a tricky match against technically-gifted opponents who achieved a 1-1 draw away to Wales last October.

Three days before the trip to Wales, Georgia lost 1-0 to Ireland in Dublin in a hard-fought encounter.

The Georgians gave a good account of themselves, twice hitting the woodwork and winning the shot count 11 to nine, and were unlucky to leave pointless.

Their next challenge is to convert good performances into positive results.

They have the right manager, Vladimir Weiss, who led his native Slovakia to the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup, although progress has been slow as the Georgians have taken just three points from six qualifiers.

A lack of firepower has been an ongoing problem for Weiss, whose squad does not include anyone with a double-figure goal tally.

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However, they are hoping for inspiration from Shakhtar Donetsk 19-year-old attacking midfielder Giorgi Aribadze, who netted twice in a 3-0 friendly success over St Kitts and Nevis earlier this summer.

Keeping a close eye on Aribadze may be the key to Ireland securing a clean sheet but the Boys in Green may struggle to impose themselves at the other end.

Ireland are only the fourth-highest scorers in their section and have lacked a class forward since Robbie Keane's retirement.

O'Neill must choose between Burnley striker Jonathan Walters and Southampton's Shane Long to play up top but neither has started a league match this season.

The situation is far from ideal and it may harm Ireland's chances of securing a crucial three points on the road to Russia.

Georgia or draw double chance
1pt 23-20 Betway

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Team news
Defensive midfielder and regular captain Jaba Kankava is suspended.

Jeff Hendrick (thigh) and James McCarthy (hamstring) are ruled out and Seamus Coleman is a long-term absentee. David McGoldrick withdrew from the squad for personal reasons.

Key stat
Ireland have scored no more than one goal in five of their last six matches.

Ireland are only the fourth-highest scorers in their section
E.W. Terms
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