"I will cherish it for the rest of my life," Levan Kobiashvili said of his UEFA award for becoming the first Georgian to win 100 caps – but his international career is far from over.
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Georgia may have lost at home to Greece in their concluding UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier but Levan Kobiashvili had cause for cheer at Tbilisi's Mikheil Meskhi stadium after becoming his country's first 100-cap player.
The midfielder – who has played more than 300 Bundesliga games for SC Freiburg, FC Schalke 04 and current club Hertha BSC Berlin – is 34 yet remains hungry for more despite having started 99 matches from that century of appearances. "Every game for Georgia is a special occasion and a great responsibility for me," he told UEFA.com.
"Despite my age, I'm always ready for action and have the same will to win. It doesn't always end this way, but I feel happy just to have been part of the national team for so long. In the future I will tell my children about this period. It has had its difficulties and sad moments, but you can't avoid things like that."
Former FC Metalurgi Rustavi and FC Dinamo Tbilisi prospect Kobiashvili was a Georgian youth international in 1994, before making his senior bow two years later. He can look back on "many notable moments – my goals, the pain of defeat, the joy we gave our fans". However, it is "the victory against Croatia in this qualifying round that stands out," he says, citing Georgia's 1-0 win over Group F's second-placed finishers last March – a game settled by Kobiashvili's 90th-minute goal. "I hope there will be many more great matches. I still feel fit and well, I play in the Bundesliga, so I hope to be of use to my country for a while yet.
"I remember my first match, a friendly against Norway in Oslo in 1996. I didn't even expect to be in the squad, but coach Aleksandr Chivadze put me in the starting lineup. We played well only to concede from the spot and it was me who gave away the penalty. However, I got enormous support from everyone in the dressing room."
A year later he helped Georgia register a goalless home draw with Italy in FIFA World Cup qualifying. "I almost lost my mind when I first faced Italy," Kobiashvili said. "Instead of warming up like usual, I just stared at our opponents, all their legendary players. But when the game started there was no mercy from me. They had to be satisfied with a point in Tbilisi.
"When I started playing I didn't think about personal records. I dreamt of representing my country at a major tournament, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. Recently I said that I'll have this honour as a coach, but it was a joke – coaching is extremely tough and I don't fancy becoming one. Football is my life and I'll probably stay in it, though I'm not sure in what role."
As one of the latest recipients of the UEFA award for players winning 100 caps, Kobiashvili added: "On Tuesday, before the Greece match, I fully understood the feelings of those players who have received or will receive this award. My family and I were really happy and it wasn't an everyday emotion. I will cherish it for the rest of my life. But it's not just my achievement – I owe this award to all the people I have worked and played with for the last 15 years. They all played their part and I want to thank them."