SATURDAY 2 SEPTEMBER
Georgia v Ireland, Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi, 5pm [Irish time]
Live blog on RTÉ.ie and the RTÉ News Now App from 4pm.
Live coverage on RTÉ2 from from 1600. Also available on rte.ie/player (RoI only).
Live commentary of on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1.
A dry and warm day in Tbilisi with very little chance of rain and temperatures reaching up to 33c. Some cloud cover will cool things slightly by kick-off, but otherwise it looks like being a perfect night for a game of football, although the pitch will need to be watered.
IRELAND AIM TO MAINTAIN PERFECT RECORD
Ireland will be looking to extend their 100% record over Georgia when the two sides meet in Tbilisi on Saturday evening, with qualification for next year’s World Cup in Russia still very much in their own hands.
Martin O’Neill’s men face two decisive games in the space of three days as they follow up the trip to Georgia with a crucial home clash against group leaders Serbia on Tuesday.
Both Ireland and Serbia are level on points at the top of Group D, with the Serbians holding a marginally better goal difference but before O’Neill can turn his attentions to that game, he must ensure his side take full points from Georgia.
On paper it appears to be a straightforward affair. Georgia have yet to win a game in qualifying and their hopes of even claiming a play-off place have long since faded as they have taken just three points from their six games.
Historically, it’s been a one-way rivalry with Ireland winning each of the eight games the teams have played since 2003 and, crucially, all but one of those clashes have come in competitive internationals.
However the Georgians have already proven that they can put a spoke in the qualifying hopes of so-called bigger teams, after Tornike Okriashvili’s equaliser in Cardiff saw them hold Wales to a frustrating 1-1 draw last October.
The Welsh are still feeling the results of that draw and they remain four points off the pace with their hopes of qualifying for Russia 2018 now depending on results that are outside of their control.
Indeed, Ireland should count themselves fortunate to have taken all three points from Georgia’s visit to Dublin three days before Vladimir Weiss's charges held the Welsh to that draw in Cardiff.
It’s was a limp display from O’Neill’s side as they edged to a 1-0 victory courtesy of a very scruffy second-half goal from skipper Seamus Coleman, who will be absent for this clash and he continues to recover from a broken leg.
Ireland were abject during a turgid first half of football that brought back memories of the darkest days of the Giovanni Trapattoni era, and were lucky to go into the break level with the visitors hitting the woodwork twice.
WES OR NO?
Eamon Dunphy was, as you’d expect, extremely unimpressed on the RTÉ panel in the aftermath of that 1-0 win in Dublin, damning O’Neill’s tactics as "agricultural stuff" and called it the "worst Irish performance I have seen in a very, very long time. Your worst nightmare if you're an Irish fan".
The absence of Wes Hoolahan was a predictably a major bone of contention for Dunphy in October and the RTÉ pundit looks likely to have plenty to moan about when the team sheet comes in just before kick-off in Tbilisi.
O’Neill has shown that he’s loath to play the mercurial midfielder away from home and supporters hoping to see him get the nod to start on Saturday should prepare themselves for disappointment, even with Jeff Hendrick ruled out through injury.
The Ireland manager opted against picking Hoolahan when Ireland travelled to Georgia during their qualifying campaign for the 2016 European Championships, as well as October’s game, and there appears to be little hope that the Norwich man will start this time out.
Glenn Whelan looks to be the most likely candidate to fill in for the injured Hendrick, offering the defensive solidity that O’Neill craves away from home but the Aston Villa midfielder doesn’t usually offer much in the way of creativity.
RTÉ Sport's own Anthony Pyne has delved further into the issue here, but those expecting to see the Norwich midfielder play anything more than a bit-part role in Tbilisi are likely to be disappointed.
YELLOW CARD DANGER FOR IRELAND
With captain Seamus Coleman ruled out after suffering that horrific broken leg against Wales, O'Neill will also be without Hendrick (thigh) and James McCarthy (hamstring).
Defender John O'Shea (calf) and forward Jonathan Walters (thigh) both took a full part in Ireland training yesterday morning and both are expected to be available for selection on Saturday.
O'Neill's most immediate concern now is that eight Irish players are a yellow card away from missing Tuesday's home game against Serbia through suspension.
Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, David Meyler, Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan and Walters are all walking that disciplinary tightrope and with most expected to feature against Georgia, will all have to be on their guard.
Harry Arter, insists however that the looming threat of a suspension will not change the Irish approach. "Managers won't want their players in the mental frame of mind (thinking about) getting booked or not booked," he told the Independent.
"If you doubt yourself going into tackles, you need to get it out of your mind. It wouldn't affect me going into a tackle on a booking. I'm going to play the same way."
Georgia's three points from their six qualifying games is perhaps unreflective of how they've played in this campaign.
Saturday's hosts have scored in every game they've played in Group D with game against Ireland in Dublin coming as the only exception, but they have a bad habit of taking the lead and not being able to hold onto it, suggesting a mental fragility.
Ireland's remarkable 100% record against Saturday's hosts is also something that will play on their mind and midfielder Nika Kvekveskiri admitted that their unwanted losing streak is something that rankles with them.
"It's crazy that we have this bad record against Ireland. We don't have that against Spain or France or anyone else, just Ireland," Kvekveskiri told the Herald. "We need to end that run and this group of players has to do all we can to finish it, we are ready.
"It's about our pride. We have been playing against Ireland for a long time, eight games and eight losses so we need to change that, we want to finish off that bad record and we want this team of 2017 to be the first team from Georgia to take points off Ireland."
The hosts have a couple of major injury concerns to contend with however, with Weiss robbed of his two most experienced players.
Tornike Okriashvili, who scored against Ireland when they played in Georgia in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and who bagged their equaliser against Wales misses out, as does Italian-based striker Levan Mchedlidze, blunting their Georgian front line.
Timing is everything. Ireland have left it late on many occasions in this campaign and as it draws to a climax, it's time to do it again. pic.twitter.com/QFSGPSYh7C— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) September 2, 2017
VERDICT: GEORGIA 0-1 REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Ireland away from home are never going to play with the attacking intent that their supporters often call for and O'Neill will set his side up not to concede first and foremost. The visitors will be aided by the absence of Okriashvili and Mchedlidze and should have enough about them to nick a goal.
The Irish manager will be happy enough to go into half-time with the sides level and should he require it, will have players on the bench like Hoolahan and Conor Hourihane who can come on and help his team to chase a goal.
Georgia v Republic of Ireland (kick-of 5pm) is live on RTÉ2 from 4pm, radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 Saturday Sport and live blog on RTÉ Sport Online and the News Now App.