Malkhaz Asatiani's early goal gave Georgia a deserved victory against Russia which has sparked their UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 10 qualifying campaign into life.
When this match was abandoned at half-time due to floodlight failure in October the score was goalless, but a lively Georgian team ensured that was not the case this time around. Despite Russia's best second-half efforts, there was no way back for the visitors.
Both sides made a number of changes after disappointing results last time out - Georgia having lost to the Republic of Ireland before drawing with Switzerland, while Russia were defeated by Albania. Ivo Šušak stepped in as temporary Georgian coach following Alexander Chivadze's resignation, and was able to call on AC Milan's Kakha Kaladze in defence and both 21-year-old Asatiani - making his first start of the competition - and Georgi Demetradze up front.
Meanwhile, the veteran Victor Onopko returned to the Russian defence. Andrei Kariaka, Dmitri Alenichev, Yegor Titov and Marat Izmailov were selected further forward and Veniamin Mandrykin was in goal due to Sergey Ovchinnikov's knee injury.
Georgia were supported by 11,000 noisy fans and they had much to shout about early on. Russia conceded a number of free-kicks in dangerous positions, and on eleven minutes one led to a goal. Though captain Georgi Nemsadze's initial kick was punched away by Mandriki, the ball came back into the box and Demetradze, at the second attempt, crossed from the right and Asatiani headed in at the far post.
Sergei Semak volleyed wide soon afterwards, but Russia continued to be forced backwards as Georgia remained dominant in midfield. However, the visitors' increasingly numerous counterattacks were starting to look a more likely source of goals. A Kariaka free-kick was spilt by Georgian goalkeeper Georgi Lomaia, forcing Zurab Khizanishvili to intercept as Semak looked to pounce. However, there was no way through before the break.
The home team had a fine opportunity seven minutes into the second half, Levan Tskitishvili shooting over from close range after Asatiani's square ball capped a superb Georgian passing move. With Aleksandr Kerzhakov off the bench, Russia pushed further forward, but the Georgians now had more room in the visitors' half. Asatiani sent an angled effort wide of the target, while a Demetradze shot on the break went over.
Russia had their best chance of the match 18 minutes from the end as Gennadi Nizhegorodov's deflected header from a corner was brilliantly saved by the highly-touted Lomaia. Immediately Georgia broke, but Kvirkvelia's shot was high.
Onopko made a last-ditch interception from Demetradze five minutes from the end, but despite some keen Russian pressure, the visitors could not force an equaliser. They remain second in the group, two points behind Switzerland. Georgia are still bottom - but are now within two points of Russia in what is shaping up to be a fascinating group.