Euro 2012 preview: Greece
Greece aren’t overwhelmingly different from the team that shocked Europe to win Euro 2004. They’re not as extreme in their negativity, and not as effective, but are still broadly defensive and their main threat will come from set-pieces.
The continuity from eight years ago is obvious when looking at the midfield zone: dead ball specialist Giorgios Karagounis and the defensive Kostas Katsouranis are present and are expected to start. They have a good relationship from years of playing together for Greece, Panathinaikos, and going a few years back, Benfica.
Also at Benfica with those two was Greece’s coach, Fernando Santos, which helped him settle into the job having taken over from the legendary Otto Rehhagel. The two veterans play an important role in the dressing room, making their position in the side secure.
More attacking style
Though Greece are more attacking, more technical and less structured than under Rehhagel, they haven’t evolved significantly since the last World Cup.
There is still the same formation, 4-3-3, which features Fanis Gekas as the primary striker, supported by Giorgos Samaras moving inside from the left flank, and Dimitris Salpigidis likely to play the most energetic role of the three. His position may come under threat from the younger, more exciting and more popular Sotiris Ninis, but Salpigidis was favoured throughout qualification and seems likely to start. Either way, that player needs to offer width and stretch the play, because Samaras’ tendency to become a second striker means Greece are otherwise very narrow high up the pitch.
Greece can become a broken team, with a 7:3 split and no connecting players. The two veterans in midfield need a runner alongside them to bring energy and verticality to the side. In an ideal world, Ninis would be in a position to take up a permanent midfield slot alongside them, making an all-Panathinaikos midfield trio, but the position will almost certainly go to Giannis Maniatis, a versatile player who often plays at right-back. He’s more of a hard worker than a creative player, but his stamina and speed will be vital in the midfield zone.
Physical defence with attacking full-backs
The lack of midfield thrust and attacking width is compensated for, in part, by Greece’s attack-minded full-backs. Vasilis Torosidis is something of a Philipp Lahm character, able to play in either full-back position and possessing a good long-range shot. He’s likely to start on the right, allowing Jose Holebas to motor up and down the left. Centre-backs Avraam Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos are solid and physical, although they are decent on the ball too.
Torosidis is an injury doubt for the first game, however, which would probably mean Papastathopoulos moving to right-back, and Avraam Papadopoulos being joined by (no relation) Kyriakos Papadopoulos, the promising young Schalke player. This is what Santos did in the pre-tournament friendly against Armenia.
In goal there’s something of a question mark, where Santos has a plethora of options yet none are particularly convincing. Kostas Chalkias and Alexandros Tzorvas are both error-prone, and Michalis Sifakis might play instead, despite being less experienced. Whoever Santos chooses, this is Greece’s weak link.
The excitement is likely to come from the bench. Ninis is the obvious choice if he doesn’t start, but the introduction of Giannis Fetfatzidis could be an even better option. He’s 21, 5′5, starts from the right but comes inside onto his left foot and has great balance and upper body strength when dribbling past opponents. He likes a chipped finish too – all which means, inevitably, he’s ‘The Greek Messi’, a tag he’ll never live up to, but he’s a fine player and likely to be a classic supersub.
As in 2004, set-pieces will be key. Their most important win in qualifying, the 2-0 victory over Croatia, was sealed with two goals from set-pieces at the end of a dull match. Karagounis’ delivery is good, while Holebas and Fetfatzidis are other options, with the centre-backs and Samaras obvious aerial options because of their height, but Gekas is also good at making runs unchecked.
An old, static core to the side that needs energy from younger players to be remotely exciting. Ninis will hopefully get playing time, Fetfatzidis should appear from the bench, while Maniatis provides functional mobility in midfield. The full-backs are attack-minded and might surprise opponents with their constant running, but Greece’s lack of quality upfront is a big problem.
Coach – Fernando Santos
Formation – 4-3-3 with little width upfront, but attacking full-backs
Key players – The full-backs: they offer the width and directness that doesn’t come from further forward
Strength – Set-pieces: Karagounis is a fine free-kick taker, and Greece possesess aerial threat from corners
Weakness – A lack of security in goal and a very static side overall
Key tactical question – How much do Greece stretch the play, and how much do they connect midfield and attack?
Key quote – Santos: “Greece don’t have a Messi, so it’s tactics first, then quality second”
Betfair odds - 110.0 (109/1)
Recommended bet - Poland v Greece to be under 1.5 goals at 2.6
Further reading – Ed Malyon’s preview at InBedWithMaradona