Wales will look to consolidate second spot in Group D when they visit the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena to face Georgia on Friday

The dreaded fortnight-long international break has begun, and the final two rounds of the group stage in the European leg of the World Cup qualifiers are set to be played. In Tbilsi, Georgia play hosts to Wales at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, with Group D evenly poised ahead of the last two rounds.

The hosts are out of the running to qualify for next summer’s World Cup, a prospect that realistically seemed beyond the minnows at the start of the campaign as well. But five draws out of their eight fixtures is a commendable return ahead of the last two rounds.

The visitors, meanwhile, were considered as the favourites ahead of Serbia and Republic of Ireland in Group D. But while they’re still unbeaten in the campaign after eight rounds, five draws have seen them drop behind Serbia. Two wins in their last two games, though, have kept them in contention for automatic qualification.

The reverse fixture, played earlier in the campaign, ended in a 1-1 stalemate as Gareth Bale’s opener was cancelled out by Tornike Okriashvili. Ahead of their latest meeting on Friday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Georgia

Kakhaber Tskhadadze does not have any major injury concerns affecting his squad ahead of the last two rounds of World Cup qualifying fixtures, with most of his key players fit and available for the visit of Wales and the trip to Serbia.

The pivotal figure for the Georgia boss is undoubtedly Valeri Qazaishvili, the San Jose Earthquakes attacker who has been the biggest threats for the hosts thus far in their campaign. On Friday, the player would be hoping to add to the three goals that he has scored so far.

But, he will need the support of the likes of Giorgi Kvilitaia, Jano Ananidze and Nika Kvekveskiri to spring another surprise on Chris Coleman’s men. At the back, the likes of Solomon Kverkvelia, Guram Kashia and Giorgi Navalovski will need to be at their toes to keep the threat of the Welsh attack at bay.

Possible Starting XI (4-5-1): Makaridze; Kakabadze, Kverkvelia, Kashia, Navalovski; Qazaishvili, Kankava, Kvekveskiri, Gvilia, Ananidze; Kvilitaia

Georgia

Wales

Like his counterpart, Chris Coleman does not have to deal with several injury concerns either ahead of the visit to Tbilsi. But, the Wales boss does have a major injury woe on his hands before the group stage of the qualifying campaign culminates.

His team’s talisman, Gareth Bale will not be able to end the group stage with the squad after being forced to pull himself out of contention due to a calf injury he sustained last week. With the Real Madrid man reportedly set to be out for two to four weeks.

Bale has been replaced by Barnsley’s Tom Bradshaw in Coleman’s squad. The injury to his star man, though, could prompt the Wales boss to hand the highly rated Liverpool wonderkid Ben Woodburn his full international debut.

Meanwhile, the onus will be on Aaron Ramsey to take on the mantle of leading the Welsh attack in Bales’ absence and create the chances for his attackers. Up front, Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu are going head-to-head to grab the starting role as the striker on Friday.

Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Hennessey; Gunter, Chester, Williams, Davies; Ramsey, Allen, King; Woodburn, Vokes, Lawrence

Wales

Key Stats

  • Wales are yet to beat Georgia in four previous meetings, with the stalemate twelve months ago being the only result when Georgia haven’t managed to beat the Dragons.
  • Wales are unbeaten in their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign thus far, although five of their eight results have ended in a draw.
  • On the other hand, Georgia are yet to win a single game in their campaign, although they, too, have drawn five of their eight games.
  • Wales have lost just one of their last 12 international fixtures – the Euro 2016 semifinal loss to Portugal.
  • Wales do not have a promising record in Gareth Bale’s absence, having failed to win a single game without their talisman since 2013.

Player To Watch

Ben Woodburn

The opportunity of a lifetime. (Photo courtesy - Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The opportunity of a lifetime. (Photo courtesy – Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Wales is a side that has consistently grown in stature in European football in recent years, with Gareth Bale not the only player they’re dependent on. But, no player has set tongues wagging in the country since the Real Madrid attacker like Ben Woodburn has over the last twelve months.

Ironically, an injury to Bale looks set to open up the opportunity for the teenager to make his full debut for the national side. The Liverpool wonderkid made quite a wave in last month’s qualifiers as he scored the winner against Austria before setting up the opener against Moldova.

A performance of a similar kind could pave the way for a bright future for Woodburn as he could possibly seal a regular place for himself within Coleman’s squad ahead of potential qualification to the World Cup.

Prediction

Georgia 1-2 Wales

The group stage of World Cup qualifiers in Europe is in its home stretch, with the last two rounds left to be played. In Group D, things are evenly poised as any of the top 3 sides could still qualify for Russia 2018 automatically.

Wales need to win each of their last two games in order to do so, and first up are Georgia. The minnows are yet to be beaten by the Dragons, with the stalemate last year being the very first time that they’ve taken any points out of the hosts.

On Friday though, the desperation to cross the finishing line could just inspire the stuttering visitors to record their very first win. The impressive Woodburn should continue a strong start to his international career and he could possibly take his side to a win.

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