Duruji Kvareli / Georgia – 2046 Open Thread
December 2045 / January 2046 – Odds & Ends, Initial Transfer News.
We draw Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern in the Champions League knockout rounds. Not the best draw, but also not the worst, as we eliminated them in last year’s quarterfinals.
In terms of other Georgian clubs in Europe, the Champions League draw sees Saburtalo paired with Liverpool (who sit 14th in the Premier League, and just sacked Gerrard with the club 27 points off the top), while Dinamo Tbilisi will face Gennaro Gattuso’s tycoon-fueled Betis.
In the Europa Conference League draw, Lokomotivi Tbilisi will face Viktoria Plzen, after finishing a distant third in their Europa League Group, while Dila Gori has a bye into the Second Knockout Round after narrowly winning their Conference League Group.
Meanwhile, Dinamo Batumi suffered the double insult of: (1) relegation to the Erovnuli Liga 2 through a 5-2 aggregate loss to Rustavi; and (2) banishment from Europe with a Matchday 6 loss away to Ojisek, which saw them tumble to 3rd in their Conference League Group.
Given the latest FIFA scandals, the luster of the World Cup draw is somewhat lost this year. Instead of an oiled-up urCristiano and bearded, overweight Messi in a white polyester jumpsuit (a look pulled straight ouf of the “Fat Elvis” era) on a stage in Switzerland, we’re treated to Frank Lampard with a combover, shouting at strangers from a Sainsbury parking lot in Bethnal Green, passers-by reluctant to make eye contact.
In the end, Lampard mutters something about us being drawn with Marcos Antonio’s Brazil and Iran.
No pushovers, these. Seven-time winners Brazil are ranked 3rd, Iran 46th, in the latest FIFA rankings.
Fortunately, the glitz and glamour of the awards season hasn’t changed, and remains a star-studded affair that we can attend and enjoy.
Irakli Tsnobiladze claims both the European Golden Boy and World U21 Footballer of the Year, the very same brace that Otar Jikia claimed last year. Iralki is the second-consecutive Georgian player to win the Golden Boy, the fourth Duruji Kvareli player to receive the honor in the last 6 years.
On the transfer side of the shop, we welcome five arrivals in January — five of the best young Georgian players around.
Nukri Shalamberidze ($2.4M; Zestaponi) is a promising young goalkeeper, who I anticipate will eventually push Burnadze for the spot in our 2nd XI. He’s been the primary keeper for Zestaponi’s reserves even at the age of 16-17.
Malkhaz Gachechiladze ($7M; Torpedo Kutaisi), a left wingback with pace to burn, whom our scouts rated as a potential 1st XI player if given time to develop. After first spending time with Torpedo’s reserves, he made 25 appearances for Zana last year in the Erovnuli Liga and Davit Kipiani Cup.
Omar Shubladze ($2.6M; Zestaponi) was spotted by our scouts while looking at Shalamberidze, and they seem to think he has potential. I’m less convinced, but depth at wingback is never something to shake a stick at.
Giorgi “Captain” Kvirkvelia ($5.25M; Dinamo Batumi), a holding midfielder that my scouts rate as the most promising youngster in the country. He will train primarily as a roaming playmaker.
Zviad Gedenidze ($3.8M; Monaco), a player our scouts identified several years ago when he emerged from Monaco’s academy, that we’ve long been awaiting. I brought Zviad into the national team fold in late 2044 to help curry favor and groom him for future stardom. I have high hopes for him as a mezzala, but he needs minutes and he needs them now — our midfield is rather crowded. While our other new signings can expect to spend time with our U21s this year, Gedenidze needs to be in the first-team squad.
Keep in mind, when television payments began in 2033, there were only 2 fully-professional clubs in the top tier.
Now? Clubs are awash in cash. Case in point? Relegated Zana. They turned a $144 million profit for the year, and drop into the second tier with $273 million in the bank.
I keep looking for signs of a television deal in the Erovnuli Liga 2, but that has yet to materialize.
What’s the point, you ask? The Erovnuli Liga television rights for 2046 will be a whopping $218 million per team. A modest year-on-year increase from last year’s $215 million.
But an increase, nevertheless.
February/March 2046 – Champions League, First Knockout Round.
Though our pre-season slate of friendlies was arguably more challenging than in the past, we still obtained the results we wanted to see.
Our preparations were complicated thanks to being drawn in the “early” round of First Knockout Round fixtures for the Champions League — we had a slate of matches both before and after the first leg against ze Germans.
The first leg against ze Germans at the Hansi Flick is controlled by Bayern. They are the better squad. Yet, Iashvili has kept them at bay, even if both sides have had few legitimate chances. As we enter the 90th minute, I would be content with a draw. But Gospodinov and Hovring have other ideas, with the former finding the Norwegian bursting through the line, only to be taken down from behind. A clear penalty. VAR confirms, but it was never in doubt.
Tvildiani steps forward and finds the bottom corner, beyond the reach of the keeper. We claim a 1-nil win — a win we probably do not deserve. Not that I’m complaining.
Back at the Goose, ze Germans will have to attack. Leaving themselves exposed to our counterattacks. On a snow-covered pitch, anything can happen.
In the 8th minute, Hovring is again taken down in the box. Penalty. Tvildiani does not over-think things — he simply places the ball in the same corner as he did in the 1st leg, to make it 1-nil on the night. When Sapa finds the back of the net in the 34th, the Kursha Road Brigade begins to celebrate — they can feel it in the air. Up 3-nil on aggregate, surely we are through…
…yet, ze Germans have other plans, claiming a goal shortly before the half, as Yuksel pounced on a loose ball when we fail to clear a corner.
The 2nd 45 finds an open, end-to-end match in which both sides are snatching at their chances. The playing surface does not help.
Tvildiani seals our victory with a 90th minute header. 4-1 on aggregate. We’re through, thanks to a Man of the Match performance from our young libero.
Sadly, we will be denied our hopes of avenging our losses to Liverpool in the 2044 quarterfinals and the 2045 final. Why, you ask?
Because Saburtalo eliminated them, 2-nil on aggregate.
Having reached the Europa Conference League semifinals two years running, Saburtalo have set their sights higher, it seems. In the quarterfinals, they will face Merih Demiral’s Manchester United, while we will face Thomas Tuchel’s Barcelona, a side we know quite well.
Domestically, we are favorites to claim our 20th straight Erovnuli Liga title. However, the odds are only 1-16, reduced from the 1-25 odds we saw in 2043-45. This reflects the growing strength of our domestic rivals, no doubt. We also only place 7 players in the media’s pre-season Dream XI, which is laughable.
Though our attentions have been focused on the Champions League, we have managed a solid enough start to the domestic campaign.
And, the March international break serves as a gentle reminder of what lies ahead. Of the one thing that we cannot take our eyes off of. The World Cup is imminent…no matter how hard we chase Champions League glory, a greater glory awaits.
We face Serbia and Denmark with the same squad that took us through qualifying. The same squad that will travel this summer. We brush the 39th-ranked Serbians aside in Belgrade, 4-nil. In Tbilisi, we welcome Daugaard with open arms — and a minor attempted food poisoning — Shaw’s idea, naturally. We are the dominant force, but snatch at our chances in a wildly entertaining match, falling 4-3 to the 19th ranked Danes.
We are ready. We simply need to stand up and be counted when the moment arrives.
April 2046 – Champions League, Quarterfinals.
At the Goose, Shaw is in a frenzy. I cannot emphasize enough how much he dislikes Tuchel and Barcelona. (It all traces back to a social media dispute he and Tuchel had years ago, over the merits of various K-pop artists and a particularly explicit ‘fanfic’ authored by Thomas that was none-too-flattering to Shaw. But, I digress.)
We pick up right where we left off last summer in the Club World Cup final — utterly rampant, behind the force of a ‘perfect’ hat trick from Jikia, who claimed goals in the 7th, 20th, and 68th minutes. A massive 3-nil win.
At the Camp Nou, it is a balanced affair until Prokhorenko spies Val off his line in the 25th, anticipating a through ball. Maxim chips him from 25 yards, before racing to make sweet love to the corner flag. At 4-nil, Barcelona need a miracle.
On the hour mark, we bring on Kamladze, Gospodinov and Tsnobiladze. We will play the final 30 minutes with an all-Georgian XI. Shaw and I may be the only ones who notice the symbolism of the moment, though it quickly becomes a minor social media furor. A proud moment, to say the least, capped by Tvildiani heading home in the 83rd minute. He has been in exceptional form thus far, and deserved his goal tonight.
2-nil on the night, 5-nil on aggregate. We march into the semifinals.
We will face Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus in the semifinals, while Saburtalo faces Ruben Amorim’s Manchester City.
No, you read that correctly. Our plucky rivals from the capitol have — on the heels of two consecutive Europa Conference League semifinals (losing on penalties, then narrowly on aggregate) — managed to knock off Manchester United thanks to a 1-nil win at Old Trafford, followed by a 2-1 win in Tbilisi…after eliminating Sami Khedira’s Liverpool, 2-nil (agg.) in the First Knockout Round.
Meanwhile, Lokomotivi Tbilisi defeat Watford on away goals to reach the Europa Conference League semifinals — while it would be foolish to dream of an all-Georgian Champions League final (or a Georgian European double), crazier things have happened.
Ok, ok. Maybe crazier things have not happened.
Just to be sure that Saburtalo don’t get cocky, we send out our 1st XI the weekend after our Champions League progression, smashing them 5-nil in what is our 200th straight match unbeaten at the Goose, and also ties our record of 112-match unbeaten streak in all competitions.
In other words, Saburtalo may be an “emerging force” on the continent, but they still have a mountain to climb. In fact, they haven’t taken points off of us since October 2034.
April/May 2046 – Champions League, Semifinals.
24 hours after City lay seige to Saburtalo in Tbilisi, the first leg at the Goose is our chance to set the tone.
We must take it, on a windy Spring evening.
In the 18th minute, Hovring flicks a throw-in from Aladashvili on, which Jikia gleefully nods home at the back post. The Italians have looked strong…can they respond?
If staggering like a drunken Scotsman counts as a response, Juventus have that down. We come close once, twice…and on the third attempt, Sapa buries it after he bursts through the defensive line unmarked. 2-nil in the 20th minute. It’s all too easy.
To their credit, Juventus pick themselves up off the floor and charge forward into the fray. Like a drunken Scotsman. We counterpunch — Hovring making it 3 in the 40th minute, capping a lightning-fast counter.
It’s 4 in first-half injury time, with Tvildiani feeding Hovring as others make shadow runs to the back post.
Pirlo’s Beard has seen enough. Something changes, as the Italians emerge in the second half with a sense of purpose, remembering that they know how to play football after all. They claim a goal, and have another scratched off by VAR in the 85th.
In the 90th minute, Juventus pile 9 men into the box for a corner, leaving a lone centerback and their keeper back. It’s a true 2v2 if we can counter…and we do, with Hovring calmly rounding the retreating keeper to make it 5-1 on the night.
Yet, like a drunken Scotsman, Juventus refuse to accept they’ve been beaten and manage to claim a scrappy goal in the 93rd minute. We’ve let our concentration slip. Shameful.
A 5-2 win is an emphatic statement of intent. And on any other night, we would be celebrating a great victory. But I cannot forgive our late capitulation. And the tie is not over yet.
Pirlo emerges from the tunnel for the second leg, cleanly shaven.
He looks ****ing ridiculous. Shaw makes a point of telling him as much, in a heavy, fake Italian accent.
If we can take our chances tonight, the tie is over. It is as simple as that.
In the 5th minute, we strike. Jikia intercepting, turning to fire a no-look, 30-yard pass to Hovring who is on his bike. He flicks it past the keeper to give us a 1-nil lead on the night.
Juventus need 5 goals to force extra time. Somewhere, the remnants of Pirlo’s Beard are thankful to not be associated with this debacle.
Though our hosts pull one back in the 32nd minute, there is truly no fight to be had. Especially not once Prokhorenko puts one in off the post on the hour mark. 3-1 on the night. 8-3 on aggregate. Savage.
At the final whistle, Shaw cannot help but celebrate like a man possessed, shouting his furious joy in Pirlo’s baby-smooth face. Like a drunken Scotsman.
We will face Ruben Amorim’s City in Madrid, after they dispatch Saburtalo 3-2 in the second leg (4-2, agg.).
May 2046 – Champions League, Final.
We approach the final in good form — the only points we’ve dropped all year, the 2nd XI away to Europa Conference League semifinalists Lokomotivi Tbilisi.
While the media are aflutter with the notion of “revenge” for the 2038, there is too much water under the bridge to truly feel that in my soul, even if Shaw is spitting with rage at the fact that “those “Stockport ****s” are narrowly favored, notwithstanding our record-tying 25-match unbeaten run.
City control possession in the early stages, with nothing to show for it. But in the 35th minute, a well-taken free kick leads to pandemonium in our box, with Jalo smashing home from the penalty mark. A well-taken finish, no doubt. Sapa nearly pulls us level moments later, but is denied by Antwi from close range.
Jikia takes his chance in the 42nd, however, after a short throw-in leads to Khuroshvili breaking into the box, cutting back to find Jikia at the near post. 1-1. All to play for.
The match could fall either way in the 2nd half.
The next goal could be crucial.
Within moments of the restart, Arveladze clears off the line, from a City corner. A nervy moment, to say the least.
In the 59th minute, Iashvili saves from Leopold at point blank range. We need to change things up. We’re starting to lag behind the play. Gospodinov is tapped to replace the tiring Sapa…but it does not change the flow of the match, Nowakowski rattling the crossbar from 20 yards in the 67th minute. Tsnobiladze will replace Hovring.
In the 71st minute, we win a free kick 25 yards from goal, in the right-hand channel. Tvildiani steps forward, it has been a quiet match for him thus far…he curls the ball around the wall…a thing of beauty, unreachable by the keeper. 2-1. Redemption for his penalty miss in last year’s final?! Perhaps. There are still 20 minutes plus stoppage time to play.
Leopold is denied moments later by the post, City again close to their 2nd, yet we clear. Gvazava will replace Prokhorenko, to help shore up our central midfield.
In the 80th minute, Antwi commits a blunder destined to go down in history. He saves well from Arveladze’s header off a corner…but inexplicably punts the ball directly into Jikia’s face while trying to launch a counter…he can only watch in horror, as the ball rolls slowly into goal. 3-1.
Despite the gut-punch of the moment, City continue to press and are rewarded through Leopold in the 88th, as he finds the back of the net with authority. Squeaky bum time.
As the final whistle blows, Antwi collapses like a puppet with cut strings. At 3-1, his was simply a blunder — perhaps tempered by City’s profligacy in the final third. At 3-2, his error will go down in history as the decisive factor, regardless of how fair it is. Or isn’t.
Either way, Dariusz Sapa is tapped to raise ol’ Big Ears in Madrid. One for the ages. Our third Champions League title.
The following morning, none of us can believe it, still. Not the win. The way it happened.
Shaw sends Antwi a fruit basket. “It’s the least we could do, Boss.”
Jikia claims the Golden Boot, with 14 goals. We also place 4 players in the Dream XI — Iashvili, Khasenov, Tvildiani and Sapa — with Iashvili, Tvildiani and Jikia winning Best Goakeeper, Defender and Midfielder, respectively.
We head into the World Cup with tired legs after a busy Spring. The Georgian squad virtually mirrors Duruji Kvareli’s first team, so at least we know where our fitness levels are.
June 2046 – European Review.
The Champions League is rather thoroughly documented above, as we claimed our 3rd title in 7 years.
In the Europa League, Luuk de Jong’s Everton defeated Keita Balde’s Chelsea, 2-1 (aet).
In the Europa Conference League, Martin Skrtel’s Sevilla beat Austria Wien, 2-nil.
In the active leagues, urCristiano’s Real Madrid won their 7th title in 8 years; Wim De Decker’s Arsenal defended their Premier League title; Killian Mbape’s PSG won the Ligue 1 title on the final matchday, after Weston McKennie’s Lille lost at home to Pol Planas’ Marseille; Dejan Stankovic’s Inter won their fourth Serie A title in 5 years; and, normal service resumed in the Bundesliga, as Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern did Bayern things.
Despite two big years in a row for the Erovnuli Liga, we drop to 7th in the UEFA competition rankings, falling behind Portugal. In the nation club coefficients table, however, we are poised to climb above France into 5th, and thus claim another Europa League spot. Italy are also in our sights…though it make 2 years to overhaul them.
And, for the first time, we are deemed to be the most-reputable club in the world.
2046 World Cup, Group Stage.
Given the extreme overlap between Duruji Kvareli and Georgia, there seems to be little point in engaging in another, drawn-out squad review.
Out of our 23-man squad, 17 currently play for both sides. 5 others came through our doors, over the years.
The only player who does not have ties with Duruji Kvareli is our third-string keeper, Gigiadze. And he won’t play.
In short, our players and tactics are well-known. Players of consequence in the tournament will have screenshots included below, the first time they are mentioned.
But, for now, it is time to get to business.
We do not field our entire 1st XI during the pre-tournament friendlies against Ghana and Canada, to ensure that our players are not exhausted before we begin in earnest. Accordingly, the results are uneven — a 7-nil annihilation of Ghana, followed by a 91st-minute winner in a 1-nil win over Canada.
Marcos Antonio’s Brazil, of course, are another matter. Playing them first is helpful, as we know what we will need to accomplish against Iran on Matchday 2, while also having time to rest prior to the knockout rounds…assuming we reach them.
Brazil‘s quality shines through in the early minutes, with only Iashvili to keep them at bay. We battle back, and in the 37th minute, Gospodinov plays a gorgeous diagonal ball to Jikia, who buries it to stake ourselves an improbable 1-nil lead.
By halftime, we are the side setting the pace. Not our more celebrated South American adversaries. But in the second half, their quality shone through. We had every opportunity to win the match, but could not find the back of the net.
We fall, 2-1, and are left licking our wounds. Dreaming of what might have been.
Now, we must obtain a result against the Iranians or go home in disgrace. I had hoped to rest several players, to ensure full fitness for the knockout rounds.
That is no longer an option.
On the eve of the Iran match, Stamatis feels it is appropriate to send word about our latest academy class. I can only shake my head in disbelief. Read the room, Stamatis.
Notwithstanding Shaw‘s long-standing hatred, Shevchuk (deputizing for Jincharadze) repays our faith with a 14th minute goal, as we look to be in fine form. We all start to breath easier when Jikia smashes a penalty home in the 33rd minute.
It isn’t pretty, but Bokhashvili seals the match in the 50th minute, tapping home from close range after a flurry of chances fail to find the back of the net. That does not stop Tsnobiladze from celebrating like a man possessed after firing into an empty net in the 80th minute, though.
A comprehensive 4-nil win. Barring some minor miracle, we are through.
To face Ivan Juric’s Italy, winners of Group N. ****.
2046 World Cup, Second Round.
I can’t decide if having had 8 days off between matches is a good thing or not. We are well rested. Yet, have we lost our fluency? Shaw frets in the technical area, worried.
Our eagerness may be our undoing. We win a corner in the 1st minute, but Italy launch an immediate counter…and Khuroshvili nudges Bernardi in the box. The latter collapses dramatically, looking immediately at the referee…who points to the spot. VAR confirms it.
Verderame smashes it into the side netting, to give Italy an early lead. The last thing we needed to do was spot them a goal.
Shaw seethes. Unblinking.
We fight back and exert some measure of control. But we do not take our chances, and enter the half down 1. Shaw says nothing, but removes his “pimp grill” for the second half, leaving only his filed down teeth. Ready for battle.
Both sides come out swinging. We connect first, counterattacking off a corner, with Prokhorenko driving, a 3v3 with Jikia and Gelashvili drawing defenders away with shadow runs before Prokhorenko beats his man on the dribble, and then fires into the bottom corner. All to play for in the 54th minute.
Shaw responds with a toothy grin, but no other sign of satisfaction.
Minutes later, Jikia has to be withdrawn with a potential injury. Tsnobiladze replaces him, with Shevchuk on for Gospodinov. With 15 minutes to play, Tabukashvili replaces Gelashvili. The last roll of the dice.
Neither side can find a path to goal. Six minutes of injury time, an eternity.
Shaw has not left the technical area all match. He hasn’t said a word. The frustration is manifest on his face.
We have the better of Italy in the first half of extra time, with nothing to show for it. And neither side gets a good look in the second half, either.
Penalties. Shaw has a thousand-yard stare in his eyes, his nose bleeding lightly.
The trickle of blood from Shaw‘s nose has become a steady flow, matched only by the sweat on his brow.
Kancelskis will take Italy’s fourth kick…sauntering forward like his Russian namesake. Confident, he dinks one down the middle. But Iashvili has the measure of him, and finds him wanting. Arveladze will take our 4th kick…the chance to give us the advantage…and he sends the keeper the wrong way. We lead, 3-2, after 4 kicks.
The moment of truth has arrived. Shaw has fallen to his knees, mouth agape. Fratus must score…but as in the 1994 final, Italy are destined to fall short. Fratus misses the target entiretly, with Iashvili once again going the right way.
Italy, vanquished. We live to fight another day, though Shaw is face down in the technical area.
Jikia is out for somewhere between 8 days and 3 weeks. Barring a miracle, his tournament is over.
We will face Martin Liguera’s Uruguay, who defeated Congo, 2-nil.
2046 World Cup, Second Round.
We rotate a few players, but are in surprisingly good condition for the Uruguay match. Tvildiani and Arveladze look the worst for the wear out of our XI.
When Perez fires into the top corner, off the underside of the crossbar, we know we could be in trouble. We cannot keep ceding an early advantage to our opponents.
Aladashvili nearly draws us level in the 10th minute — rattling the post. We retain possession, only for Koberidze to fire straight at the Uruguayan keeper from 15 yards.
We continue to press, only for Uruguay to make it 2 in the 39th minute, hitting us on the counter.
We have 45 minutes to save our World Cup. But we waste our chances.
One cannot hope to progress with only 1 shot on goal.
It is not enough. We are well-beaten on the day. No matter how pleased the GFF may be, we are frustrated. We know that we can do better. We must do better.
In the end, Tomas Esteves’ Portugal defeats Thierry Henry’s France — an ugly 1-nil win, but a win nevertheless.
Georgia climb to 26th (an all-time high) in the FIFA rankings. A big step forward. With several more to follow.
Given the historical likelihood of Georgia reaching the knockout rounds of the World Cup, our domestic schedule did not give way to our exploits in China. We managed to get by, even if it wasn’t pretty.
At this juncture, though, our focus is on the 2050 World Cup. We need to prepare. Which means, we need to develop Georgian talent…even if the temptation to recruit non-Georgian players is strong.
With only a matter of days before the close of the summer transfer window, we must make decisions quickly. Stick, or twist.
Shaw is adamant — now is not the time for timidity. Fortune favors the bold.
A sentiment I can agree with.
Knowing that iron sharpens iron, I decide to twist. We’ve been tracking any number of foreign players, and I have no objection at this juncture to utilizing the loan market to ensure that players who have been in our 2nd XI get adequate playing time.
Stamatis is given two tasks: (1) invest in youth; and (2) ensure that key players are tied down for the future.
At the same time, the coaching staff concludes that a change is needed, tactically. In our efforts to conquer Europe, we have focused on a brutal, efficient dismantling of the opposition.
Yet, a banner hanging at the Goose has reminded me of one inherent truth in life, as articulated by Voltaire.
It is not enough to conquer. One must learn to seduce.
Accordingly, we will adjust our tactics. Pushing Sapa and Aladashvili higher, with Jikia and Hovring attacking from the flanks. Yes, it is back to PM Draugr, the tactic deployed in our early years in the depths of the Georgian 5th tier, which first propelled us to domestic glory.
The primary purposes of this “adjustment” are to be more dynamic in possession, while also unshackling our libero to launch into open space in front of him. We may sacrifice some defensive stability in the process, but so be it.
Stamatis wastes no time in channeling his inner Ed Woodward. Only, unlike Ed, Stamatis knows his business.
And, our scouts have done their homework.
Santiago “Pancho” Villa ($25.5 million; Club América) is right behind him — an established Mexican international, who we will ask to be a gunslinger, bombing down the right flank. Jincharadze makes way, moving to the 2nd XI and playing from the bench with our 1st team.
We have also secured the future transfers of Luis Navio ($30 million; Toulouse) and Joseph Bull ($10.25 million; Celtic), with the latter set to be retrained as a libero. Navio will join in early March 2047; Bull arrives in January 2048.
We missed my primary target for a new ball-winning midfielder, but no matter.
In our first match after the switch, we claim a 6-1 win over domestic rivals Dinamo Tbilisi, led by Tvildiani‘s hat trick. I will take it, even if Villa looked adrift in his debut.
As Shaw coordinates the mass videotaping of U15s playing in parks across 3 different continents, we focus our efforts on the first big match of the fall campaign — the UEFA Super Cup against Luuk de Jong’s Everton in Nursultan.
We annihilate them, 3-1, hardly breaking a sweat.
The Champions League draw is typically fickle. We will face Keita Balde’s Chelsea, Molde and FC Nordsjaelland.
Of note, both Dinamo Tbilisi and Saburtalo entered the Champions League draw as third seeds.
In the other European competitions, it is tough draws all around. Torpedo Kutaisi is the sole team in the Europa League draw, while Dila Gori and Lokomotivi Tbilisi have a tough road ahead in the Europa Conference League.
September 2046 – Nations League, Division A.
The placeholder that is the Nations League kicks off in Tbilisi against Nikola Dovedan’s Austria, where we are greeted by Julian’s familiar face. Yet our new signing cannot stop the avalanche alone. We claim a 4-1 win, playing our less expansive Nagelsmann-inspired PM Haaienvuist — tacit acknowledgment that the Georgians must scrap for every point at the heights of the international game.
A move that proves prescient when we travel to the San Siro on Matchday 2, where Luciano Vulcano’s Italy are backed by thousands of well-oiled supporters, demanding vengeance.
Yet, we strike first, through a curling Gvazava free kick following his replacement of the tiring Tvildiani. Italy hit back almost immediately, and the match seems destined for a draw. Until Tsnobiladze is sent through in the 94th minute and, with nearly the last kick of the match, rifles our 2nd into the back of the net from close range, to claim a narrow 2-1 win.
Another historic moment for the Crusaders, as we sit atop the table, if only for this moment.
An iconic moment.
A moment which is ruined, when I return to my room to find Shaw bathing in limoncello with some women he met at the bar downstairs. That just isn’t sanitary.
I’m fully prepared for our annual youth academy class to be a disappointment, but even Stamatis can’t restrain himself. While the overall class may be less than impressive, there is one gem. A diamond in the rough.
Vano Gogokhia, whom Shaw has taken to calling “the Georgian Robbie Brady.” I will admit to a fair share of initial confusion at the reference, which has yet to dissipate even after a lengthy YouTube session.
The only other player of note is Lasha “Moobs” Mamporia, whose most notable quality is his utter lack of fitness. Hence the unfortunate nickname.
On the pitch, we kick off the Group Stage with a 4-nil win over Molde. Bigger tests are ahead, however, as we kick off at Stamford Bridge in 72 hours time.
The month kicks off in the Big Smoke. Our unbeaten run jeopardized by a Chelski squad that are more than up for it, led by club favorites Katchip and Henriksen. It is a battle, but the 2-1 win does us much credit, extending our unbeaten streak to 144 matches in all competitions (in the league, it is a 430-match run).
72 hours later, we clinch our 20th straight Erovnuli Liga title with a labored draw against Dinamo Tbilisi, our erstwhile rivals, at the Goose. It isn’t pretty, as our 1st XI’s legs are heavy after the long flight home. But no matter. Given the occasion, we needed to put our starters on the pitch.
Per usual, the Nations League disrupted our focus. Yet, with the core of the Crusaders coming from Duruji Kvareli we can maintain some semblance of spirit. A hard-fought, come-from-behind 2-2 draw in Amsterdam is followed by a 3-1 win over Italy thanks to a world-class performance from Iashvili. With 2 matches to play, we sit 4 points clear at the top of the table.
On the club side of the shop, we continue to leak goals against weaker opponents. It’s a troubling pattern, but one that Shaw insists we need not worry about. His casual lack of concern (often assumed to be yet another concussion) is usually a calming influence on my manic tendencies…but not this time.
November 2046 – Nations League.
For the first 46 minutes of the 1st half in Vienna, we were outplayed. Outmatched.
As Shaw would tell you with a wink, however, “goals change matches.”
No ****, Luke.
Of course, when Tvildiani pounced on a loose ball in the 2nd minute of first-half injury time, followed by an epic own goal just after the restart, I have to admit Luke was right.
There’s no denying we rode our luck in Vienna. A 2-nil win securing passage through to the Nations League semifinals next summer.
Against the Dutch, our lack of enthusiasm was evident as we wasted chances and played with a general lack of urgency. Iashvili kept us in the match (despite two thunderbolts from De Graaf) with a typical, strong shift, saving a penalty in the second half to cue late-game heroics from Tsnobiladze once again, to salvage a point in a 2-2 draw.
Surreal. We will face Spain in the semifinals.
Suffice to say that I like being a top seed for the Euro Qualifying draw. Although we did not receive the best possible draw, we can’t complain about facing the likes of Scotland, Russia, Montenegro and Azerbaijan.
We also conclude the campaign on a high note — the 2nd XI waltzing through their assigned fixtures, claiming our 15th straight Davit Kipiani Cup title in the process.
As the curtain falls on the campaign, we welcome Katchip and Henriksen back to the Goose with open arms, the “Katchip Calypso” sung at breakneck speed throughout the night. The singing was a welcome distraction to the turgid display on the pitch — a scoreless draw, when both sides deserved to lose.
December 2046 – Season Review.
Another undefeated campaign for Duruji Kvareli, one in which we banished the Champions League disappointment of prior years and set the stage for further glory.
We could rest on our laurels. There is a natural inclination to do so. But our domestic rivals are arming themselves and gunning for us. The gap has narrowed thanks to the ongoing infusion of television revenue, as demonstrated by Saburtalo‘s epic run to the 2045-46 Champions League semifinals.
Iron sharpens iron. Our Georgian-only policy has been abandoned. A much looser interpretation is now in place, in which we seek out the best and brightest young Georgian talent, to be sure, but do not elevate them into the 1st XI without justification.
As ridiculous as the Nations League may be, it has been a good proving ground for the Crusaders. I would not have predicted that we would win our Group, undefeated, against the likes of Italy and Holland. The Euros in 18 months’ time will be a good test. A preview of the 2050 World Cup, perhaps, as our playing personnel should not see much in the way of turnover.
Goals for 2047: Defend our Champions League title. Battle for the Nations League title. Qualify for the 2048 Euros in style.
God leaned over to the Devil, drew him close and declared, “those who will drink three glasses of chacha may be on my side. After that, they are yours.”
If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused, the basic concept behind Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave is explained here. Just need to catch up? Each installment in Levan “Goose” Akhobadze’s attempt to take over the football world, starting from the Georgian Regional Leagues, can be accessed through the Duruji Subsequent ThreadSave Archive.