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Georgia on Stark's mind following Group D draw

GEORGIA could have been excused for feeling like the teenager without a date for the high school prom in the aftermath of the draw for the European Championships qualifiers.

There was a buzz around Germany and the wealth of talent at their disposal, an acknowledgement of the threat of Poland and Robert Lewandowski in particular, excitement over Scotland's "derby" with the Republic of Ireland, and the novelty of playing against new boys Gibraltar. Poor old Georgia barely got a second glance.

The first reaction to Group D was to view it as a three-way shoot-out between Gordon Strachan's side, Poland and Ireland for the second automatic qualifying spot behind Germany. Billy Stark, though, believes that might be a mistake. Stark's Scotland Under-21 side played their Georgian counterparts twice towards the end of last year and failed to win either match, going down 2-1 in Tbilisi then drawing 1-1 at St Mirren Park.

With several of Alexandr Chivadze's squad likely to graduate to the full Georgian squad in time to face Scotland in Group D, Stark warned that taking six points from the two matches would be far from a formality.

"Discount them at your peril," he said after announcing his squad for the friendly against Hungary at Tannadice next Wednesday. "We know at under-21 level they have strong individuals. Now whether that translates into full international football might be a different story but there's ability there. Gordon was at our game against them at St Mirren and he'll have seen their squad. He's far too thorough to write anybody off.

"The coach of the 21s, Aleksandr Chivadze, played against Scotland in the World Cup in 1982 for the USSR, and there's also Georgi Kinkladze, Temuri Ketsbaia - they've got a pedigree of producing players."

Stark outlined the Georgians' strengths. "They've got talented individuals who want to beat players and create something. They're good athletes and they have that thing the Serbians and Croatians have too - a fantastic national pride. Out there will be a tough game. Not just for us either but for Ireland and others too."

There were call-ups to the under-21 squad for Sam Stanton of Hibernian, St Mirren's John McGinn and Craig Slater of Kilmarnock, with Stark believing the trio merited international recognition given their recent strong performances at club level.

"Stanton, Slater and McGinn have all been playing really well," he said. "I was at the game on Saturday [between Kilmarnock and Hibs]. Slater was more influential in the first half and then Hibs got a grip and Stanton was instrumental in that. I like his positive thinking."

Stark was also philosophical about possibly losing out on Southampton's Sam Gallacher, capped at under-19 level for Scotland, after the striker was called up yesterday by England. "That's maybe going to occur more often now due to us being a bit more aware of what's down there in terms of identifying players with Scottish backgrounds. His words to us were that he wanted to make himself available to England just now."

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