With the current economic situation in Greece worsening by the day there is not a lot for Greeks to be positive about at the moment, however a long source of pride particularly since their heroics in Portugal in the summer of 2004 has been the national football team. This time around being led by “the engineer of the penta” Fernando Santos, there are high hopes in Greece for a summer of positivity coming from Ukraine and Poland.
Following the European Championship triumph in 2004 Greek football was on the up with world renowned players such as Rivaldo, Olaf Mellberg and Djibril Cisse choosing to ply their trade in the Greek Super League. This resurgence even saw the Greek National team rise to 8th in the FIFA world rankings which has been their highest ever positioning. The current Greek side sits in a more than respectable 14th in the World rankings after a dismal campaign in South Africa which saw the Euro 2004 winners eliminated at the group stage. Since the departure of Otto Rehhagel after the World Cup in 2010, Fernando Santos has instilled an efficient hard to beat mentality within the Greek national side which saw Greece concede just five goals in qualification for Euro 2012 in a group which contained the European heavyweights Croatia and a talented Israel side which had the likes of Chelsea’s Yossi Benayoun and Celtic’s Biram Kayal at its disposal. Greece endured a hugely impressive unbeaten qualification campaign scoring fourteen goals in ten games with particularly surprising results being the valuable 0-0 draw and 1-0 win in away games against Croatia and Israel respectively. Greece’s home form in the qualification stage was the catalyst for Fernando Santos’ side’s success, with the Greeks taking a fantastic 13 points from a possible 15 from fixtures at the Karaiskakis Stadium. The success of the Greek’s qualification campaign has seen the 2004 European Champions enter Group A alongside the Co Hosts Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic. This is by no means an easy group and will require concentration and performance of the highest order if Greece are to progress into the knockout stages of the competition
Fernando Santos, one of the most experienced managers in Greek football will lead Greece into Euro 2012 this summer. As previously mentioned Santos has brought a sense of efficiency to the Greek squad which sees the side not conceding many goals however the cynics would say the build from the back system that Santos has brought to the Greek national side does not allow for many goals to be scored which could prove to be costly in Ukraine and Poland. Santos having worked in Greece for the majority of his post playing career knows the national pool very well, a hugely successful spell at Porto which saw him lift the Portuguese championship led him to AEK Athens, Panathinaikos, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica before finally a return to Greece with PAOK whom he left to take the national job after guiding them into the Champions League. The efficient nature of his management may well prove to be vital in a tournament scenario with games coming just days apart. Santos will look to utilise his experience and build upon the form shown by Greece in the qualifying campaign for this summer’s Championships.
The Provisional Squad
Fernando Santos recently named his 25 man provisional squad for the European Championships before he makes his final squad decision for the tournament on May 29th. The provisional squad included the expected spine of the team with the Olympiakos duo of energetic right back Vasilis Torosidis and strong Centre Half Avraam Papadopoulos being selected. As expected the jewel in the Greek crown so to speak Panathinaikos’ attacking midfield playmaker Sotiris Ninis made the provisional squad, the midfield also included the hugely experienced Giorgos Karagounis who was an integral part in the 2004 winning team and another of Greece’s young starlets Giannis Fetfatzidis whom many will remember for his impressive strike late on at the Stade Velodrome in this seasons Champions League. Fernando Santos chose experience over youth in the striking department for his provisional squad with the expected inclusion of Giorgos Samaras, Dimitris Salpingidis and 36 year old Nikos Liberopoulos. There was no place in the squad for Euro 2004 winner and joint all time Greek leading scorer Angelos Charisteas. Here is the full provisional squad list including the player’s domestic clubs.
|Sokratis Papastathopoulos||Werder Bremen|
Giorgos Karagounis will be the man leading Greece on the pitch in Ukraine and Poland this summer, the 35 year old midfielder has enjoyed a fantastic career which has included two long spells at his boyhood club Panathinaikos alongside periods at Internazionale Milan and Benfica, two giants of the European game. Karagounis captain since 2010 and led Greece to their first ever World Cup fixture win is Greece’s second most capped player behind Theodoros Zagorakis. Karagounis playing the holding role in midfield for Greece will be expected to play far less of an attacking role than he did in Portugal in 2004 and even as recently as South Africa in 2010 however this will in no way diminish his impact within the team with the veteran still as much of a threat as ever from set piece situations particularly free kicks within shooting range. Karagouinis will also have an instrumental part to play in guiding the young players in particularly Ninis and Fetfatzidis for whom it is only their second and first tournament appearance respectively. Ninis and Fetfatzidis will no doubt provide the attacking flair of the team with Karagounis simply playing a supporting cover role for them however his experience in tournament situations will be invaluable in both training and match situations for both these two boys and for the majority of the squad.
The Key Men
There is absolutely no doubt that if Greece are to have any success in the upcoming European Championships they will have to utilise the raw talent of Sotiris Ninis and Giannis Fetfatzidis, the two starlets of the Greek Super League provide the side not only with a spark of quality but also a source of inspiration with their attacking play. Fetfatzidis scored four goals in twenty two appearances in all competitions this season for Olympiakos. Ninis has had a much more injury plagued season at Panathinaikos being ruled out from September right through until March and making just fourteen appearances all year and contributing two goals in those matches. Ninis however near the end of the Greek Super League appeared to be reclaiming the form that attracted one time interest from Manchester United and this can only fill Greeks will optimism on the midfielders performances this summer, he will have learnt from the disappointment of his debut tournament in South Africa and the last two seasons at Panathinaikos since then. Ninis will also be aware that this tournament is a chance to show his new club Parma just what he can do before he joins them after the tournament in a transfer that was agreed in March. Without Charisteas much of the goal scoring pressure will fall upon the shoulders of Celtic’s Giorgios Samaras who although has not had the most impressive of seasons in Scotland scoring just six goals in thirty seven appearances in all competitions will still be a threat in tournament football. Finally another of Greece’s younger generation in the squad who will undoubtedly make a huge difference is Schalke’s Kyriakos Papadopoulos whom has had an excellent season in the German top flight making forty two appearances for Schalke which has earned him the call from Fernando Santos. His experience in playing in last season’s Champions League in which Schalke reached the semi final mixed with this year’s Europa League campaign will no doubt stand Papadopoulos in good stead for this summer, his no nonsense defensive play will no doubt cause problems for Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic in Group A.
Manager Fernando Santos has long been an advocate of the build from the back approach, which is essentially the slow build up play of solid defensive work and structure to then build attacks on, the system is based on efficiency with every single member of the team having to do their own individual jobs well in order for the system to work, this in a loose sense replicates the model used by Valeriy Lobanovskyi at Dynamo Kiev. Greece in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign adopted a 4-1-2-3 system which has been a well known favourite of Santos in his time as a manager in the Greek Super League, the system provides a solid defensive base with the back four being supported by the one in a defensive central midfield position, this then results in the Greek side being difficult to break down as we saw in the qualifying campaign, the two central midfielders are then likely to be used as a mix between ball winners and play makers distributing the ball to the two wide players who will look to find the lone striker whom we expect to be either Samaras or Gekas inside the penalty box with a cross. This system whilst successful in qualifying will once again take some getting used to by the players and that is what Fernando Santos will be focusing on greatly before the tournament curtain raiser on the evening of June 8th. One possible problem with this system is the lack of goals that come with it and in tournament football this may well be a problem especially when you face the prospect of Germany, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands in the knockout stages should you progress however if Euro 2004 taught us anything it is that you do not have to score many goals to win the tournament you just have to win games whatever way you can.
Whilst Greece have made considerable progress under Fernando Santos since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa it is still very unlikely that Greece could repeat their heroics of 2004 however with the quality of players available to Santos and the solidity of his 4-1-2-3 system there is a very good chance that Greece could progress out of Group and enter the knockout stages where the possibilities are endless, the stand out tough game in my opinion will be the fixture against Russia, whilst playing Poland on their own soil in the opening game of the tournament will be tough it is the class the Russians possess in their squad which could cause Greece problems, Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and Alan Dzagoev are all players with the attacking nous that could breakdown the Greek’s strong defence. Realistic aims for this tournament for Greece would be to reach the knockout stages, with good results against Poland and Czech Republic appearing to be more than possible there is no reason why Greece cannot reach the knockout stages particularly after their successful qualifying campaign and the quality of players at their disposal. Maybe this summer the pride will be brought back to Greece in these difficult uncertain times.
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