By Soso Kotoreishvili
With the top division being extended from ten teams to 16, the 2005/06 Georgian season, which starts on 30 July, promises to be an interesting one.
FC Ameri Tbilisi, FC Borjomi, FC Spartaki Tbilisi, FC Kakheti Telavi and FC Tskhinvali will join the ten clubs that competed last term, along with newly-founded Abkhazian refugee side FC Dinamo Sokhumi who have been admitted to the league by Football Federation of Georgia president Nodar Akhalkatsi.
Despite the influx, champions FC Dinamo Tbilisi are pre-season favourites. Having farmed out some youngsters to other teams, coach Kakhaber Tskhadadze has strengthened his hand by landing FC Dynamo Kyiv defender Aleksandr Amisulashvili on loan.
Dinamo have also signed two of the stars of last season's Premier League runners-up, with midfielder Giorgi Nergadze and forward George Megreladze acquired from FC Torpedo Kutaisi, while goalkeeper Zviad Sturua and forward Mikhail Bobokhidze arrived from FC Lokomotiv Tbilisi.
Torpedo have had a torrid summer with financial problems costing them their best players, prompting Kutaisi city council to re-form the club. Otar Gabelia is still coach, but the 52-year-old is unlikely to be able to achieve much without new investment.
Having finished third with a young side last time around, FC Tbilisi are digging deep after a number of players departed for promoted Borjomi, leaving coach Georgi Devdarian to turn to the club's youth academy in search of fresh talent.
With Torpedo and Tbilisi weakened, Georgian Cup holders Lokomotivi may be capable of a top-three placing with attacking midfielder David Siradze brought in following a spell at Germany's SV Eintracht Trier 05. However, they should be wary of competition from newcomers Ameri.
In the three years since their formation, Ameri have become a strong outfit, and former Georgian international defender Georgi Chikhradze has strengthened his squad with four key recruits, including Torpedo midfielder Alexsandre Koshkadze and goalkeeper Georgi Nikuradze from Finland's FC KooTeePee.
Borjomi and FC Sioni Bolnisi have also been busy in the transfer market, while FC Kolkheti-1913 Poti and FC Dila Gori have named new coaches in Soso Filia and Vladimir Khachidze respectively, and have an outside chance of European qualification.
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