European Championship in focus: Spotlighting Greece

1 Comment

Oh, no. Not these guys, again. Didn’t they trudge their way to a title a few years ago? And now they’re back? Yeesh.

That’s going to be the general consensus, with the pragmatic approach Greece employed to win Euro 2004 proving more memorable than the accomplishment. Clearly, that’s not very fair, especially considering Otto Rehhagel’s team played three 2-1s while eliminating Spain and Russia in group stage.

Still, it’s tough to call Greece’s label pure misconception when the team’s spent the last eight years living down to the hype. People have expected boredom, and Greece has duly delivered, and even though they have qualified for (now) three major tournaments in a how, nobody sees their national team schedule a friendly with Greece and think “I can’t wait.”

That doesn’t mean they aren’t good (they went undefeated in qualifying). It just means you might not have trouble getting a ticket when Greece comes to town.

Man that matters:

Theofanis Gekas: As you’d expect from a team synonymous with cures for insomnia, scoring has been a problem for Greece. Who knows if that’s a stylistic concern, a function of their talent, or a chicken-egg scenario (are we conservative because we can’t score, or do we not score because we’re conservative).

Gekas is the one player who can get goals. He’s the only player on Greece’s roster with more than 20 international tallies (Nikos Lyberpoulous is the one other player in double digits), and having consistently found net during club spells in Greece, Germany and (most recently) Turkey, the 32-year-old striker has experience to leverage.

The only issue: Of his 21 career international goals, only three have come against teams in Euro 2012.

First-round games:

June 8: vs. Poland (Warsaw, Poland)
June 12: vs. Czech Republic (Warsaw, Poland)
June 16: vs. Russia (Warsaw, Poland)

Foursome of knowledge:

  • Despite concerns over Greece’s style, the team is still a bit of an unknown. After World Cup 2010, Rehhagel was replaced as head coach by Fernando Santos, who led them to seven wins, no losses in qualifying. Since, Greece has been less convincing, accumulating three draws and a loss in four friendlies. Along the way, the Greeks have managed to find some goals, scoring 18 times in 14 matches. Given a relatively weak Euro qualifying group, that total should be higher.
  • Two important cogs remain from Greece’s 2004 title winner: Panathinaikos midfielders Kostas Katsouranis and Giorgos Karagounis. Katsouranis started the 2004 final against Portugal, while Karagounis scored the tournament’s first goal. Together, they have 214 caps, are a combined 67 years old, and are expected to start in Santos’s midfield.
  • On the other end of the age spectrum, Greece have a handful of youngsters expected to play parts in Poland. Panathinaikos 22-year-old midfielder Sotiris Ninis is an expected starter. Kostas Mitroglou (24, Olympiakos) and Giannis Fetfetzidis (22, Olympiakos) could be impact subs, while 19-year-old Kostas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern) has earned a place in the squad after making his senior debut in February.
  • Greece’s 2004 title was the only time the country has made it out of group in a major competition. In their five other major tournaments, Greece has won only one match, defeating Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup.

Where they are going:

Greece has failed to impress since the end of qualifying, and within their larger body of work, their 2004 title looks like a fluke. They did go through qualifying undefeated (taking four points from Croatia in the process), and while it wouldn’t be a shock to see Santos steer them through an evenly matched Group A, third is the more probable finish.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Kostas Chalkias (PAOK), Alexandros Tzorvas (Palermo), Michalis Sifakis (Aris Thessaloniki)

Defenders: Giannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Giorgis Tzavelas (Monaco), Stelios Malezas (PAOK), Kryiakos Papadopoulos (Schalke 04), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Werder Bremen), Vasilis Torosidis (Olympiakos), José Holebas (Olympiakos)

Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (Monaco), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos), Giorgis Fotakis (PAOK), Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos), Panagiotis Kone (Bologna), Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos), Grigoris Makos (AEK Athens), Giannis Fetfatzidis (Olympiakos), Kostas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern

Forwards: Giorgis Samaras (Celtic), Nikos Lyberopoulos (AEK Athens), Kostas Mitroglou (Atromitos), Dimitris Salpigidis (PAOK), Theofanis Gakes (Samsunspor)

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.