Sunday, July 10, 2011

Europa League Second Qualifying Round Background - FC Gagra of Georgia

Most international fan's knowledge of Georgian football clubs will be restricted to Dynamo Tblisi. Since the former Soviet republic was formed in 1992 this relatively small nation, in Soccer terms, has not being pulling up too many trees in the forest of Football, preferring understandably to focus on domestic matters as it struggles to define it's borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Participation in European competition is restricted to only three clubs that face a long journey to the group stages. Among them is FC Gagra who clinched a place in the Europa League Second Qualifying Round after lifting the Georgian Cup by beating FC Torpedo Kutaisi 1-0. Sevast Todua with an extra time winner.

Gagra's achievement is all the more impressive given that they were a Second Division side when they achieved their Cup success. Relegated in 2009, the club won promotion back to the Pirveli Liga this season and will go up as Cup Winners, and Europa League participants. Not a bad record of success for a club formed in 2004 and does not have a home stadium to call it's own.

The city of Gagra itself is based in Abkhazia, a region of Georgia that is bitterly disputed. Separatists with the region have attempted to break away and form their own republic. While Russia and a number of other countries have recognised the region as an independent state, Georgia and pretty much everyone else in the World does not and neither does UEFA.

Abkhazia is on the north west of Georgia and shares its border with Russia and Gagra is located on the coast of the Black Sea. Apparently it is a picturesque location and back the days of the Soviet Union it was a tourist resort. Unfortunately, it's people paid a bloody price for the war in the early 90s as it was a focal point of the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazian separatists.

Amidst the geo-political backdrop, life continues and so does football. FC Gagra's inaugural European match is against Anorthosis Famagusta who know all about disputed territory. Anorthosis have not played in Famagusta since the Turks moved in back in 1974. They play in the Greek Cypriot city of Larnaca and despite their relocation, the club have enjoyed great success culminating in an appearance in the Champions League in 2008. In fact they were the first Cypriot club to do so.

The Great Lady failed to reach the group stages of the Europa League, last season and will almost certainly see a draw against a newly promoted European debutant as a chance to progress.

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