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Zestafoni and Dinamo dream of group stage

FC Zestafoni and FC Dinamo Tbilisi have the chance to write a new chapter in the history of Georgian club football when they conclude their UEFA Europa League play-offs on Thursday.

Zestafoni celebrate after scoring against Club Brugge in the first leg
Zestafoni celebrate after scoring against Club Brugge in the first leg ©Badri Ketiladze

Already eye-catching performers in European competition this season, FC Zestafoni and FC Dinamo Tbilisi have the chance to cause a real stir on Thursday.

While Dinamo Tbilisi's UEFA Europa League campaign started back in the first qualifying round at the end of June, Zestafoni only entered the same competition at the play-off stage last Thursday. They did so with a bang, however, coming from 2-0 and 3-2 behind to salvage a 3-3 home draw against Club Brugge KV – all that without a permanent coach. Dinamo, meanwhile, suffered a late 1-0 defeat at AEK Athens FC but welcome the Greek outfit back to Tbilisi full of hope.

"We had a difficult match in Athens," said Dinamo director Zurab Pololikashvili. "AEK played well and several of our players were injured. We did not have enough time to recover. Zestafoni have a chance to qualify for the group stage but they are in the same situation.

"We are very grateful to FC Torpedo Kutaisi who supported us by agreeing to postpone our league game [on Sunday]. I hope we can live up to expectations because a good result in this match can influence the image of the whole of Georgian football."

Zestafoni, whose match against FC Dila Gori was also postponed, are certainly doing their part to do just that, bouncing back impressively following the sudden departure of coach Gia Geguchadze prior to the visit of Club Brugge. "I had set a goal to guide the club into the Champions League group stage," he said after ending his two-and-a-half year spell in charge following their third qualifying round loss to SK Sturm Graz. "We did not qualify so I decided to part company with the club."

The UEFA Europa League group stage, though, is still very much on the horizon, even if caretaker coach Giorgi Chiabrishvili is not getting carried away. "I did nothing," he said. "If we manage to achieve something, all the credit goes to the players.

"I would have been pleased only if we had scored three goals and conceded none. We are against very strong opponents who are considered favourites. The first leg has confirmed that, but I still think we can get over this hurdle."