Georgian Cup holders FC Dila Gori are their nation's last representatives in Europe this season and are keen to continue their impressive entrance into top-level UEFA competition.
Having failed to score in a two-legged UEFA Intertoto Cup tie in 2004, Dila found themselves in the third tier five years later. However, successive promotions followed by cup glory last season earned them a debut in the UEFA Europa League. That is a first for the city of Gori, the home of Joseph Stalin, whose poem Dila – morning – gives the club their name.
Gori is also known for judo, as proved earlier this week when Lasha Shavdatuashvili claimed 66kg Olympic gold in London. Among those to congratulate him were the Dila players, whose own heroics came the week before when they beat Danish visitors AGF Århus 3-1 to complete a sensational 5-2 aggregate victory in the club's first major continental tie. That set up a third qualifying round encounter with Anorthosis Famagusta FC, who come to Dila on Thursday.
"It was very hard to play against Århus," Dila coach Teimuraz Shalamberidze told UEFA.com. "Our opponents played smart European football, but I can say once again that we have very experienced players in the squad. They just aren't afraid of such opponents. We could have been in deeper trouble after conceding the opening goal in both matches if they were younger."
The spring signings of Lasha Salukvadze, Mate Vatsadze and Zurab Arziani from FC Volga Nizhny Novgorod, FC Karpaty Lviv's Alexander Guruli, plus Shota Kashia and Kakhaber Aladashvili with their appreciable European experience, has made a huge difference. They were followed in the summer by Georgian internationals Georgi Shashiashvili and David Kvirkvelia and FC Zestafoni's key man Shota Grigalashvili and Giorgi Oniani.
"The main problem for us at the moment is the lack of mutual understanding on the pitch," said Shalamberidze. "The lads have played in different countries – Russia, Germany, Cyprus. They need more time but are not far away from the moment when they will understand each other very well."
Shalamberidze is without injured pair Gulverd Tomashvili and Gocha Khodzhava, while Giorgi Kakhelishvili is suspended for the home leg. "Anorthosis Famagusta FC are a very good team," he said. "We have undertaken an in-depth analysis of them. I don't think we are the worse team and that means we want to play in the play-off round."
His research is helped by the fact that Anorthosis are far from unknown in Georgia. The first Georgian to sign a professional football contract was Temuri Ketsbaia, who penned terms with the Cypriot club in 1992, and having become their greatest ever player he also ended his career there as coach, leading them into the UEFA Champions League group stage in 2008/09.
The club hope Anorthosis will be synonymous with another happy chapter in Georgian football come next Thursday.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.