Shaun Maloney looks to make amends against Georgia

SHAUN MALONEY is one of only three survivors in the Scotland squad heading to Tbilisi this week who played in the still much cursed defeat suffered in the Georgian capital back in 2007.
Scotland midfielder Shaun Maloney. Picture: SNSScotland midfielder Shaun Maloney. Picture: SNS
Scotland midfielder Shaun Maloney. Picture: SNS

Try as the Scotland camp might to dismiss the relevance of a fixture eight years ago from the current bid to reach a major tournament finals, there is no avoiding the part it plays in the narrative surrounding Friday night’s return to the city.

For Maloney, mental scars still remain from that 2-0 loss which ultimately holed Scotland’s previously buoyant Euro 2008 prospects below the waterline.

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It is the closest the 32-year-old has come to success in a qualifying campaign with his country and helps fuel his determination to set the record straight this time.

“It was a really difficult night in Georgia last time and a really poor performance from the team,” reflected Maloney.

“It is performances and results like that which are buried somewhere deep inside you and which are part of the motivation to try to actually go that step further. We were brilliant in that group, the team was pretty settled, although there were quite a few players missing for that Georgia match.

“It was just a really bad result for the country at that time. It probably cost us. It meant we needed to beat Italy, who were world champions at the time, in our last game which proved too big an ask.

“We’ve played Georgia since, so I wouldn’t say it’s about banishing demons on Friday – it’s just a huge opportunity for us. There’s no looking back to the previous game, it’s all about getting that one step closer to France.

“Georgia were very good that night. We didn’t deserve anything from the match. But it was such a long time ago, maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I’m going back to some kind of historical place for us.

“It’s about what this squad has done in this campaign because not many were even involved that night. I still have the claret jersey we wore that night somewhere, although I don’t know where. I certainly don’t have it hanging on my wall!”

As it happens, Maloney’s fixtures and fittings are about to be on the move again after he cut short his MLS adventure with Chicago Fire and returned to English football by signing for Hull City at the weekend.

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He admits he found it hard to demand his departure less than a year after becoming the marquee signing for Chicago but it was a decision motivated significantly by his international ambitions.

“It was a difficult conversation with the Fire owner (Andrew Hauptman),” said Maloney. “I have to thank him for allowing it to happen and we are still on speaking terms, which is a big thing for me.

“I absolutely loved living in Chicago and it’s a good league. Unfortunately, the season didn’t pan out as we hoped but for me the travelling back to Scotland for international duty was a big reason in asking to leave.

“It was tougher than I thought and I would have found it harder and harder to be at my very best for Scotland after that much travelling. It’s such a huge year for the country and I want to be a part of it.

“As you get older, you start to realise that things don’t last, you don’t have endless qualifying campaigns with Scotland. You see the photos of previous Scotland teams throughout the years who have made it to major tournament finals and you are just envious.

“You want to be a part of the squad that makes it for the first time since 1998. I know the pressure builds on us for this Georgia game, and will build again for the Germany game at Hampden next Monday, but we have done so well in the group up to now to give ourselves this opportunity, so let’s hope we can take it.”