Greece: lightning probably won’t strike twice
It seems foolish to write off Greece after the miracle of 2004, but both on paper and on the pitch, this seems a fairly weak side – albeit on that is well-organised and has a good understanding between players.
Otto Rehhagel is still in charge, and having played a variety of systems throughout qualification, appears to prefer a fairly defensive 4-3-3 shape that has generally been his favoured formation throughout his nine years in charge.
That’s not to say that he will keep the same shape throughout – indeed, it would be more of a surprise if he didn’t vary his tactics and alter personnel. As Euro 2004 showed, Rehhagel is a tactician in every sense of the word – changing his system at will to stifle his opponents, and to exploit their individual weaknesses.
There does appear to be a pattern to Rahhagel’s switches in formation – he always likes to have a spare centre-back. Go through the qualification matches for this tournament, and he switched between a few different shapes, most often a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3. The three-man defence is used when the opposition play two forwards, the four-man defence is used when the opposition play three. Their formation will therefore probably depend on how Greece’s opponents are expected to line up.
Three up top
Rehhagel himself is intent on playing three forwards, in order to occupy the opposition full-backs. His trident will probably be Theofanis Gekas, Georgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpigidis, with Angelos Charistaes, the hero of Euro 2004, likely to be used as a plan B.
They form a slightly lopsided front three – Gekas, prolific in the qualifiers but against very weak teams, plays a central role based largely around movement. The two either side of him are very different players – Samaras is a tall, physical but skilful player who drops deep to the left for Greece and receives the ball to feet. On the right-hand side will be Salpigidis, a more traditional winger who takes his starting position outside the full-back.
As in Euro 2004, the midfield roles are slightly difficult to understand. The wonderful, underrated Giorgos Karagounis has the clearest job – he is the creator. Not particularly mobile and a slightly rash tackler, he tends to float around to the right-hand side of the midfield, finding space wherever he can – with his excellent range of passing, it’s not really an issue if he doesn’t pick up the ball in central positions.
Karagounis’ two midfield colleagues, both essentially defensive midfielders, seem to base their game around mutual understanding rather than specific positional instructions, although Alexandros Tziolis is a more energetic player than Konstantinos Katsouranis, and therefore links up with the forwards slightly more.
Strong at the back
For a team so apparently negative and defensive, the 2004 side had remarkably attacking full-backs. That is again the case, with Loukas Vyntra the more positive of the two, getting forward to combine with his Panathinaikos teammates Karagounis and Salpigidis on the right. Another club teammate, Nikos Spiropoulos, is also capable of providing attacking width from left-back – these two push forward when Greece revert to 3-4-3 to become wing-backs. Sotirios Kyrgiakos of Liverpool and Vaggelis Moras of Bologna are the first-choice centre-backs.
Of course, this all assumes it’ll be the 4-3-3 – it might well be the 3-4-3 instead, in which case Tziolis would be the favourite to be dropped from the centre of midfield, with the brilliantly-named Sokratis Papastathopoulos likely to come in. Watch for the shift in order to keep a spare man.
Relatively unimpressive in their poor qualification group, Greece will nevertheless be a tricky opponent because of the tactical nous of their manager and the flexibility of their players.
The biggest problem will be scoring goals. Gekas was the top scorer in the entire UEFA qualification for this tournament, but nine of his ten goals came against Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg, with another against Israel. That said, he was the Bundesliga top goalscorer in 2006/07, and will need to show that form here, because Samaras’ record of 5 goals in 33 caps and Salpigidis’ 3 in 33 are far from impressive.
Their best chance of scoring may well be, like in Euro 2004, from set-pieces. Moras is 6′5, Kyrgiakos is 6′4, and four other outfield players are over 6′ – add that to Karagounis’ excellent set-piece delivery and there is a clear threat. They won’t be as good as in 2004, but then they can’t be as bad as in 2008; the best thing to be said for Greece is that they are in a fairly weak group, and therefore could make the knockout stages.Greece: lightning probably won’t strike twice