These are memorable times for football in Georgia – the country is at the forefront of UEFA events, both recent and future, and Georgia's footballing authorities are excited and proud at what is being achieved.
UEFA President Michel Platini and a party of senior UEFA officials were delighted to see at first hand just how Georgia feels about football and is committed to developing the game indoors and outdoors, during a recent visit which took in a meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and attendance of the UEFA Futsal Cup finals in the capital Tbilisi.
The 9,540-capacity Tbilisi Palace of Sports in Tbilisi staged the UEFA Futsal Cup finals in late April featuring home club Iberia Star Tbilisi, holders FC Barcelona, MFK Dinamo and Kairat Almaty. Georgia had never hosted a UEFA final tournament before, but the event was a great success. Iberia Star, the only team to enter all 12 editions of the UEFA Futsal Cup, may have lost their semi-final to Dinamo and finished fourth, yet they still made history and attracted impressive crowds for both days – including a third-place-match record attendance for their defeat by Barcelona.
Former Georgian football international Levan Tskitishvili – currently president of the Georgian Futsal Association – was also impressed, predicting big things ahead for futsal in his country. "The tournament was of a high standard," the ex-FC Dinamo Tbilisi and SC Freiburg player told UEFA.com. "In both organisational and sporting terms it matched up to expectations.”
In June 2012, Georgian football had already received a huge boost when the UEFA Executive Committee, meeting in Kyiv, decided that the 2015 UEFA Super Cup match – bringing together the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League winners – would be held at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi.
Mikheil Meskhi (1937–91) was one of Georgian football's leading lights. A skilful winger, he was known as the 'Georgian Garrincha' in honour of the brilliant Brazilian, for his creative and dynamic play. During his prestigious career, Meskhi played for Dinamo Tbilisi and FC Lokomotivi Tbilisi, and represented the Soviet Union 35 times. Now the stadium bearing his name – and refurbished with the help of UEFA's HatTrick assistance programme – will host one of Europe's premier sporting occasions.
The Mikheil Meskhi Stadium was built in 1956 by German settlers. Its current status follows a decision in 2010 when Tbilisi city council officially transferred the ground's ownership rights to the Georgian Football Federation (SFF), firstly for a period of 33 years, and then extending this to 49 years. Following on from this agreement, the SFF, Tbilisi city council and UEFA worked together on a development project, and approximately 80% of the requisite funds were provided by the HatTrick scheme. The renovation began in the summer of 2011, and UEFA has supported the SFF by supplying expert consultancy in construction and management matters.
The stadium has a 26,000-seat capacity, with VVIP and VIP areas, spacious underground parking, a brand-new press conference room and media centre, and top-quality dressing rooms and training pitches. "Stadiums are at the heart of football and are where the action is played out," said SFF president Zviad Sichinava.
"The stadium had tremendous potential, but we needed to define the quality criteria and priorities for the renovation. There is still work to be done, but we now have a first-class stadium where football is played and watched in a safe and modern environment. We are really looking forward to 2015."
This progress was reviewed during a positive meeting between Michel Platini and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. In addition to the talks between the two leaders, further discussions took place involving the UEFA delegation, deputy prime minister Kakhaber Kaladze – the former Dinamo Tbilisi, FC Dynamo Kyiv, AC Milan and Georgia defender – sports minister Levan Kipiani, SFF president Sichinava and general secretary Revaz Arveladze.
Discussions centred on the further development of Georgian soccer, government assistance to the game and the eagerly awaited UEFA Super Cup rendez-vous in two years' time. Both parties expressed satisfaction at the talks, and followed up by watching the UEFA Futsal Cup semi-finals with keen interest.
Georgia was heartened by Michel Platini praising the SFF's organisation of the futsal showpiece. Former Georgian international striker Archil Arveladze, a UEFA Futsal Cup tournament ambassador, summed up Georgian pride. "Our country hosted a number of high-ranking visitors during the finals," he said. "Not only national association representatives, but also the UEFA President. Such interest put us at the centre of international attention. The average match attendance was 6,000. The fans did Mexican waves in the stands – well, we have to catch these waves and use the tail wind for future sailing."
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