Competing in the UEFA Europa League for a second successive season, FC Dila Gori are again relishing their role as dark horses as they prepare for the second leg of their third qualifying round tie with HNK Hajduk Split.
The eastern Georgian team performed above expectations in 2012/13, recording aggregate victories against AGF Aarhus and Anorthosis Famagusta FC before eventually succumbing to CS Marítimo at the play-off stage.
Dila have been similarly impressive in three qualifying matches this term, seeing off Danish side Aalborg BK 3-0 on aggregate and then earning a dogged 1-0 win over Hajduk Split in Croatia last week. Their sole previous European expedition had come in the 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup.
But while the Hajduk result boosted Dila's chances of progressing to the play-offs, coach Giorgi Devdariani believes his charges are yet to hit top gear. "I would be lying if I said I dream about that kind of performance," he told UEFA.com. "Given that we were playing away from home in a sold-out stadium, I am satisfied. But we were lucky not to concede and we need to be quicker on the break."
Devdariani was, however, full of praise for his Georgian international goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili, the hero of the piece in Split last Thursday. "I don't like to single players out, but I will make an exception for Nukri. I am happy that such a player, such a person, is with us."
One negative for Dila was the red card issued to experienced defender Otar Khizaneishvili, who consequently misses Thursday's sequel through suspension. "He is very important to us," conceded Devdariani. "I am not yet sure who will replace him."
The 40-year-old also laughed off the claim made by Hajduk coach Igor Tudor before the first leg that Dila were favourites to advance. "He said it to unsettle us. I didn't count us as favourites – I felt the chances were even. He is probably more optimistic now after he saw how we defended," said Devdariani.
Despite the added pressure of playing in front of a home crowd in Tbilisi, Devdariani insists he will stick to his counterattacking tactics. "I don't plan to change our game plan. We will try not to concede a goal and wait for opportunities to break. We are pragmatic – we want to progress to the next round and fight for a place in the group stage."
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