After Georgia won an elite round group containing England, Belgium and Scotland to qualify for their first ever UEFA European Under-19 Championship, head coach Giorgi Tsetsadze believes their success is more than deserved. Before Georgia's last pre-finals training camp in Latvia, the 38-year-old discussed the ups and downs of qualifying and laid out his plans to make it to the semi-finals in Lithuania.
UEFA.com: Georgia changed coach before the elite round. What inspired you to take the job?
Tsetsadze: My decision had its roots in the past. For a long time I've known the potential of these players; many of them passed through my hands. I believed in the team and the most important thing was to motivate them. I also believed in the coaching staff that had worked with the side, and given the overall potential of Georgian football I was sure it was within our grasp to qualify for the finals. However, you also need some luck to do that.
UEFA.com: Last year Georgia made it to the European U17 Championship semi-finals; now the country is represented at U19 finals level. Is this a coincidence or the start of a trend?
Tsetsadze: I don't believe it's a coincidence. I would rather say that we're reaping the fruits of the work undertaken by Giorgi Devdariani, Vasil Maisuradze and other youth coaches. In fact, I consider it an accident that Georgia missed out on the U19s last year. I am sure these generations will have their say in both the U21 and senior teams.
UEFA.com: Your friendly results were not positive, so was it a surprise to qualify?
Tsetsadze: I am happy that everything went just as we planned. Those friendlies gave us a lot, not in terms of results but in the football we played. The setbacks were a lesson for us. You cannot change everything in one day so we did it gradually, systematically.
UEFA.com: Georgia managed to pip England to the finals in the elite round.
Tsetsadze: England were the strongest team in our group. We tried to impose our game on them. Playing a positive game requires plenty of physical effort, but the most important thing is to be mentally prepared to play your football in every match.
UEFA.com: You won 3-1 against Scotland with nine men and the team seemed to be exhausted in your final elite round match, a 2-0 win against Belgium?
Tsetsadze: Besides losing two men to red cards against Scotland we also lost four more to suspensions. So for the Belgium game we had just one fit substitute and planned to bring on our reserve goalkeeper up front to strengthen the attack. Fortunately we did not need to do that and put on a fresh defender when we were 2-0 up. I am happy that all our 18 players experienced the first XI. Some who played against Belgium had no previous experience of such matches but they didn't let us down and did their job. I hope it will continue like that.
UEFA.com: How do you assess the final tournament draw and what will be your goal in Lithuania?
Tsetsadze: We have very strong teams in the group [France, Serbia and Turkey]. But I am happy we were not drawn with the hosts. I know Lithuania and I believe they will not be the whipping boys. Whichever group we were drawn in, we would aim to qualify; the chances are the same for everyone. The most important thing for us is to get to semi-finals.
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