Georgia qualifier switched to neutral venue

August 19, 2008

BERNE, Switzerland, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Georgia's World Cup qualifier against Ireland scheduled for next month will be moved to a neutral venue due to the tensions in the country.

World soccer's governing body FIFA issued a statement on Tuesday saying it had decided to switch the fixture due to security concerns after 'closely monitoring the situation'.

The conflict erupted over South Ossetia when Georgia sent in troops and tanks to try to take back the province on Aug. 7-8, provoking a huge counter-attack from Russia.

FIFA said the Georgian Football Federation would have until Aug. 26 to nominate a neutral venue for the Group Eight game which will go ahead on the originally planned Sept. 6 date.

'We are hugely disappointed that the match will be played at a neutral venue,' Georgian FA President Nodar Akhalkatsi said.

'It was a crucial qualifier because it will be our first and we worked very hard at the fixtures meeting,' Akhalkatsi told reporters at Britton Ferry, near Swansea where Georgia face Wales in a friendly on Wednesday.

'But we have a bigger situation at home and it won't matter where we play. The players will use this as a bigger motivation against Ireland to get a result.'

The Irish Football Association (FAI) requested the change of venue a week ago for what will be their Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni's first competitive match in charge.

Georgia defender Zurab Khizanishvili, who plays for Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League, said he believed the decision to move the match would favour Ireland.

'I wish we could have played in Georgia because it will be easier for Ireland to play somewhere else...Ireland have a lot of quality players,' he said.