Greece national team

2014 World Cup Team Preview: Greece

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Getting to know… Greece
Greece are quietly (and some might say, boringly) one of the world soccer’s greatest powers. Well, of the 21st century, anyway. Prior to 2004, no one paid Greece much attention. Then they went on to win the 2004 European Championship.

Their success in the Euros ten years ago marked them out as formidable opponents, although they failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, and only made it to the group stage of Euro 2008. Greece then went to South Africa but failed to get out of the group stages.

However, they’re currently ranked 10th in the world, however surprising that might be. Greece did manage to make it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, but needed to win a playoff to reach Brazil. In this case, focusing on their ranking may be overestimating the side – but it’s always wise to remember that this strong defensive unit can take points off top teams.

Record in qualifying
Greece finished even on points with Bosnia in UEFA Group G, both winning eight, losing one and drawing one for a total of 25 points. But Bosnia’s +24 goal difference far outweighed the Greeks’ +8.

That meant a two-legged playoff with Romania, who’d finished behind Netherlands. Surprisingly, considering Greece had scored no more than two goals in any match in qualifying, they ran out 3-1 winners in the first leg. The second finished a 1-1 draw, but it mattered little. Greece won 4-2 on aggregate and were set for Brazil.

Oh, and Kostas Mitroglou scored three of Greece’s four goals in the playoff round. The same Kostas Mitroglou who went to Fulham and was never seen again.

A look at Group C
Nothing about Group C looks easy. Colombia, the top seeds, are one of the dark horses in this year’s World Cup, even if Radamel Falcao doesn’t get back to full fitness in time. Ivory Coast are getting on in years, but they have Yaya Touré, who had a superb season at Manchester City, and Didier Drogba, who might be 36 but can still score some immense goals. And then there’s Japan, whose attacking threat may be enough to wear down Greece’s defenses.

Game schedule

Sunday, June 15 at 12 noon: Colombia vs. Greece (Estadio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte)

Thursday, June 19 at 6 p.m.: Japan vs. Greece (Arena das Dunas, Natal)

Tuesday, June 24 at 4 p.m.: Greece vs. Ivory Coast (Estadio Castelão, Fortaleza)

Star player
Greece lack a certain star quality. They’ve got a few players in Italy, two at Fulham, and most of the rest in the domestic league. The star, almost by default, becomes Kostas Mitroglou, he of the famed $20m move to Fulham, back in January. But a persistent knee problem, combined with doubts expressed by manager Felix Magath, kept the forward out of the starting lineup. In his four months at the club, Mitroglou started just once.

But Mitroglou has scored eight goals in 28 appearances for his country, including those vital goals in the playoff against Romania. And considering coach Fernando Santos cut three other strikers from his preliminary squad, it makes sense to keep one that’s been able to step up in important games.

Manager
Fernando Santos has been at the helm since 2010, after coaching domestic club PAOK for three seasons. Despite being voted Greece’s best coach of the decade in 2010, the shadow of his predecessor still lingers.

Santos took over from Otto Rehhagel, the coach that lead Greece to their Euro triumph. And while the Portuguese tactician has attempted to introduce a different style to the national team, little has changed. Greece are still known primarily for their defensive strength…

Secret weapon
Which is, of course, their not-so-secret weapon. If you’re not an avid watcher of European tournaments or qualifiers, you may not know just how much Greece rely on their defense. After all, they lost to both South Korea and Argentina by a 2-0 scoreline in 2010, and beat Nigeria 2-1.

But Greece pride themselves on being as stingy as possible. They conceded just four times in qualifying, a record bettered only by Cup holders Spain. Yet Greece faced rather weak competition from the rest of Group G, and in their second meeting with Bosnia, the latter knocked in three. Will their weapon fail them in Brazil?

Prediction
Greece will barely have any time to unpack their bags. It’s highly unlikely they’ll make it out of the group stages, and a last-place finish in Group C is well within the realm of possibility.

Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Reflecting on the quarterfinals

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source: Reuters

How We’ll Remember …

Portugal 1, Czech Republic 0 – As the game Cristiano Ronaldo teased everybody’s unreasonable expectations. Let me pause here and clarify: I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect Cristiano Ronaldo to perform slower to his Real Madrid levels for Portugal. There are, however, people who tie the magnitude of his performance (for both club and country) to his team’s results. They won’t be satisfied until Ronaldo carries Portugal to a major title. On Thursday, Ronaldo (for the second straight game) tickled those fancies, as unreasonable as they are.

Germany 4, Greece 2 – Despite the six goals, we probably won’t remember this one. If we do, it will be for Joachim Löw trolling the Greeks with three changes to a team that didn’t drop a point in group stage.

Spain 2, France 0 – In hindsight, as the match where France got unjustifiably indignant when Laurent Blanc didn’t go after Spain. Some saw Les Blues as employing the same, negative tactics every team uses against Spain. I guess France is supposed to be about this, I don’t know, because in the week leading up to the match (a week in which Blanc made it clear he’d adjust his approach for Spain), there wasn’t much uproar about the plan. I suppose it’s easier to be indignant after the loss.

Italy 0, England 0 – As a match we’d rather not see again.

Team of the Round

G: Joe Hart, England
LB: Philipp Lahm, Germany
CB: Joleon Lescott, England
CB: Laurent Koscielny, France
RB: Jerome Boateng, Germany
M: Xabi Alonso, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
M: Sami Khedira, Germany
AM: Mesut Ozil, Germany
RW: Marco Reus, Germany
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

Subs: Andres Iniesta, Spain; Joao Moutinho, Portugal; John Terry, England

Three Lessons to Take Home

1. Knockout rounds are a whole new tournament – The group stage’s quality had been one of the stories of the tournament. Too bad it couldn’t last into the knockout rounds.

In the quarterfinals, we saw four teams, having decided they were underdogs, play for survival. If you’re up against a better opponent in group stage and lose – fine. You’ve got two other matches to make up the points. In the knockout rounds, there are bigger rewards for playing out draws: Potentially winning through kicks; not being eliminated.

Unfortunately, those incentives produced a noticeable step backward in quality.

2. Groups were predictably bipolar – We thought Groups B and C would be the strongest. The quarterfinals were our affirmation. With four teams left in the tournament, all of Group A and D’s teams are out.

Sublessons: Giving hosts “seeds” in the group draw is unfair. Poland and Ukraine were treated as top seeds, making their groups weaker while driving better teams into B and C.

Hosts are already blessed into the tournament. They shouldn’t also get special treatment in the draw. When they are, a team like Croatia gets screwed.

3. Spain hate in full effect – I guess we’ve decided to do this? Ignore the fact that Spain’s play is a logical extension of how they’re defended and start exclusively blaming them for how they play? Wow, we’re bored.

I’ve been no fan of Vicente Del Bosque’s tactics, but they’re a secondary concern. The main reason Spain’s winning many 1-0s is their opponent’s tactics. Perhaps if Spain was playing the 4-3-3 they should, a few of those games become 2-0 or 3-1, but Spain’s 4-2-3-1/4-2-4-0 would produce those same scorelines if teams played them straight up.

Which, of course, those teams have no incentive to do, leaving aggravated critics with a problem: who to blame for these boring games?

I have no idea, but I’d like to make two points.

  • First, these games aren’t boring as much as they’re predictable. The possession game Spain’s employing is not that different than the one they’ve used over the last four years. We’re just tried to knowing how the story ends.
  • Second, why do we have to blame anybody? Even if you’re feeling morose about Spain’s play, you could just chalk it up to an unfortunate confluence of strategic choices. Do we really have to take a pound of tactical flesh?

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.

Offshore Drilling, Euro 2012: Germany 4, Greece 2

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source: Getty Images

Man of the Match: Sami Khedira has had to take another step forward in this tournament. Whereas his introduction to the national team saw him as more of a midfield stopper, he’s now Germany’s main shuttler, often serving as the fifth man in attack. Today, that role producing a crucial goal – a volley from 14 yards out responding to a shock Greek equalizer. It was payoff for an hour’s worth of running that saw Khedira make up the space in a more fluid Germany attack. It also becomes the standout moment in what has been a strong competition for the 25-year-old.

NBC Sports: Germany beats Greece 4-2 to reach semifinals

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Germany head coach Joachim Löw surprised us by making three changes to the team that went 3-0-0 in group stage. Miroslav Klöse was back in the team, pushing Mario Gómez to the bench, Marco Reus came in for Thomas Müller on the right, while André Schurrle took Lukas Podolski’s spot on the left.
  • With the changes, Löw implied Germany wasn’t going to try to break through Greece; rather, they were going to try to move through their opponents. All of Klöse, Reus, and Schurrle are more mobile options than the players they replaced. There’s also an interchangeability to the trio that you don’t have with the team that started group stage. Early in the match, Mesut Özil and Reus were constantly switching, with Schurrle coming into midfield from the left, opening the flank for Lahm.
  • That lack of movement has been a concern for the Germans, a concern that has grown louder as the tournament’s progressed. As much as Friday’s lineup may have been a response to Greece’s tactics (as well as Löw implicitly acknowledging Greece as weak), it may have been an audition. If it was, Klöse did fine (but we knew he was good), Reus was different though not necessarily better (or worse) than Müller, while Schurrle was disappointing, putting only one of six shots on goal.
  • The changes produced a number of first half chances, and Greece was a bit lucky to have only given up a first half opener to Philipp Lahm. The goal, however, was preventable, as Sotiris Ninis lazily let Lahm move toward the penalty area after challenging the German defender for a Özil pass 30 yards from goal. Lahm moved in and past Ninis, let go of a shot from 23 yards out, and beat Michalis Sifakis into the right of goal.
  • Greece made two changes at halftime (Ninis included) and came out with renewed determination. Surprisingly, it paid off, with a long pass from Theofanis Gekas breaking Dimitrios Salpingidis into the counter. Salpingidis played a ball across to top of the six for Giorgos Samaras, who beat Jerome Boateng to put home an equalizer.
  • Fernando Santos’s substitutes came back to hurt him on the next goal. Santos had taken out left back Giorgos Tzavellas, moved Vassilis Torossidis to from right to left, and dropped defensive midfielder Giannis Maniatis to right back. When Boateng’s cross came in, Maniatis waited for the ball to drop rather than attack it. That gave Khedira time to run onto a volley for the go-ahead goal.
  • From there, the dam broke. Sifakis made a poor read on a set piece, allowing Klöse an easy goal. Marco Reus added a fourth, blasting a rebound into an empty net. Although Greece added a ;ate penalty kick, the match was already out of reach.
  • Some will see selecting Khedira over Mesut Özil as a bit of a reach for Man of the Match. Ozil had another great game dictating Germany’s attack, but even though he had two assists, most of his work was ultimately marginalized by the actual goals. Lahm did the work on the first assist, while Sifakis’s error gifted him his second. Özil deserved enormous credit for setting the tempo and providing for most of the chances Germany created. He was (as almost always) Germany’s most impressive talent, if (by circumstance) not necessarily the Man of the Match.
  • Germany now moves on to face the winner of England-Italy where they’re likely to face another very defensive approach. Will Löw again choose a more mobile lineup? Or will Gómez, Müller, and Podolski be restored to the team?
  • Even with major changes, Germany looked like favorites. If their group stage starting XI isn’t restored, isn’t unclear the team will be worse off.

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.

Mario Gomez, rekindled memories, and Germany-Greece: Friday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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source: AP

Giorgos Karagounis may have played hero last Saturday when Greece secured an unlikely place in Euro 2012’s quarterfinals, but against Germany on Friday, Greece’s 35-year-old captain will be watching from the stands, having picked up an unfair yellow card in the 2004 champions’ upset of Russia. Already been booked once in group stage, the caution triggered an obligatory suspension for the Panathinaikos midfielder, one of the team’s last links to the 2004 squad.

Goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias was also on that 2004 team, as was Kostas Katsouranis, who partners Karagounis in midfield (just as he does at Pana). They’re the only three links to that title winner, though you wouldn’t have known it by watching Saturday’s win. It was the same kind of smash and grab Otto Rehhagel used to orchestrate one of the most unlikely titles in international soccer history.

Were Greece to replicate that success, this year’s run will trump 2004’s for more far-fetched success. If forms holds (which, it probably won’t), Fernando Santos’s team will have to beat Germany, the England-Italy winner, followed by Spain, the favorite to come out of the bracket’s other half. The teams Greece beat to claim 2004’s title? France, the Czech Republic, then Portugal. If the difference in names isn’t convincing (and really, it’s not that persuasive), consider the element of surprise. Greece isn’t sneaking up on anybody this year.

Germany’s lore says they’re the least likely nation to be caught by surprise, but if Greece is looking for cracks in the dike, there are three reasons for hope.

  • First, the team Joachim Löw chose for Denmark was the youngest German side to ever start a European Championship game. Inexperience might see this lauded group overlook the lightly regarded Greeks.
  • Second, Germany has had trouble closing out matches. At the end of their three group games, all of Portugal, the Netherlands, and Denmark were given reason to think an equalizer was within reach.
  • And finally, although the trumpets are sounding for Mats Hummels, the German defender is very mistake prone. Undoubtedly talented, the young defender often commits to tackles too easy, and as Robin van Persie showed while exploiting him for his only Euro goal, mental mistakes are known to happen.

None of this should obscure the fact that Germany have a big edge in this one. The only team to go through group stage with a perfect record, the Germans have been made 4-to-11 betting favorites by British sports book William Hill. To put that in perspective, Spain are 4-to-5 to beat France. Greece are 9-to-1 to win on Friday.

Match kicks off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern. Here’s your playlist.

source: Getty Images1. Someone to sign

As we’re reminded every time a team’s outplayed but gets a result, soccer is a bottom line business. Dominate possession and chances and leave with nothing? Then all you have is nothing. The standings have no silver linings.

The bottom line’s wins, and it’s written in goals, and right now, Greece is short on men to score. The team has only three goals (one off the foot of the suspended Karagounis), and nobody’s scored more than once.

It gets worse. Except for their winner against Russia, Greece’s goals have come courtesy of opponents’ goalkeeping errors. Either Manuel Neuer’s going to oblige them on Friday, or they need somebody to step up.

Theofanis Gekas (right) is the most likely hero. Having lost his spot against the Czech Republic, Gekas was restored to the starting XI after coming off the bench to grab a goal. His 22 goals in 61 appearances makes him Greece’s only legitimate scoring threat, and with six years’ experience in the Bundesliga, Gekas will have some familiarity with his opponents.

2. Problem solved?

Greece’s biggest weakness over their tournament’s first two matches was the left side of their defense, but Santos benched left back José Holebas for the Russia match, elevating Girogos Tzavelas to the starting XI. Tzavelas nearly repaid Santos’ move with an insurance goal, clanging Vyacheslav Malafeev’s crossbar late.

Whether Greece’s problems on the left are really solved remains to be seen. Russian apathy and a tendency to get too narrow left Tzavelas largely untested. He won’t be so lucky against a Germany team that tends to lean right, taking advantage of Thomas Müller’s ability on the wing. With Mesut Özil drifting in that direction while Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger support through the middle, we’re sure to find out if Greece’s leak has been plugged.

source: Getty Images3. A little patience

Germany already has some experience breaking down a deep-sitting defense. In their first game of the tournament, the favorites faced a Portugal team that sat back in their 4-3-3. It’s a near-identical approach to what they’re likely to face on Friday.

After an hour of trying to flow through the Portuguese, Germany found a solution. Just start pumping balls in to Mario Gómez. It didn’t take them long for find a winner.

Gómez isn’t always so clinical. More often that not, he’s silent, choosing to stay between the goal posts rather than drift and help his teammates build the attack. It’s a big change from Miroslav Klose, whose willingness to go right helped Thomas Müller win the Golden Boot in South Africa.

When he’s not silent, Gómez is often doing the wrong things, as evidenced during the Champions League final. Against Greece, however, he’ll be Bayern’s best chance to break through. Rather than needing somebody to combine with Müller, Germany’s more likely to need somebody who can be served.

4. Next step in the process

Upon reflection, it seems Germany hasn’t been that impressive. At least, that’s been the critical evaluation in the wake of Sunday’s victory. If Germany doesn’t have another gear, the thinking goes, they’re unlikely to win their first major title since 1996.

The squad’s age needs to be kept in mind. None of its starters are over 27 years old. Euro 2012’s the first senior tournament they’ve entered with favorites’ expectations. When they came home from South Africa, third place was enough. This time, however, the team’s supposed to win.

It’s all part of that process we’ve alluded to all tournament; however, that process ends with first place. Given a meeting with England or Italy is looming, Germany has to start improving now.

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.

Shipped from abroad, Euro 2012: Team of the day, memories from Group A’s closing round

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source: Reuters

How we’ll remember …

Greece 1, Russia 0 – As our ultimate reminder these three game mini-tournaments can be quite unpredictable. Russia finished with the best goal difference in Group A, a small bit of evidence to confirm suspicions that they were the group’s best team. Of course, there is one very big piece of contradictory evidence: their third place standing. Greece goes through in second after an unimpressive yet opportunistic round robin.

Czech Republic 1, Poland 0 – As a game where the intensity never matched the stakes. You wouldn’t have known both teams needed a win to advance. From the 30th minute forward, the Czech were the better side, with their 72nd minute counter attack sending them through as unlikely group winners.

Team of the Day

G: Michalis Sifakis, Greece
LB: David Limbersky, Czech Republic
CB: Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Greece
CB: Michal Kadlec, Czech Republic
RB: Theodor Gebre Selassie, Czech Republic
DM: Tomas Hubschman, Czech Republic
M: Giorgos Karagounis, Greece
M: Kostas Katsouranis, Greece
LW: Vaclav Pilar, Czech Republic
RW: Jakub Blaszczykoswki, Poland
F: Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Subs: Tomas Sivok, Czech Republic, Roman Shirokov, Russia; Petr Jiracek, Czech Republic

Three lessons to take home

1. Embrace the randomness of the three-game mini tournament – We all know about the any give day principle. In international soccer, it’s promoted from principle to rule. Any team can beat another, especially when they get the first goal. One errant header (Sergei Ingashevich), one point of clairvoyant opportunism (Giorgos Karagounis), and you’ve got enough to get through.

Don’t let that diminish what Greece accomplished today, knocking Russia off their perch and advancing to the quarterfinals. In the opening minutes, Kostas Katsouranis’s redirection onto goal served notice. Greece weren’t just going to sit back and hope. They were taking hope into their own hands.

We see results like these all the time during league seasons and, after picking our jaws up off the floor, move on realizing these things happen. It’s only one game in a long campaign.

In these tournaments that are major final group stages, these results are one-offs, but the implications loom large within the context of a three-game season.

Russia are the Seattle Sounders. Or Arsenal. They’ve just lost to the Columbus Crew. Or Wigan Athletic. It’s surprising and they should have done better, but it’s hardly the biggest upset we’ve ever seen. In fact, these things happen.

And if they happen to you in a three-team tournament, you’re probably sunk.

2. ‘Best’ and ‘most deserving’ are two different things – Are Russia better than Greece? Probably, but these tournaments aren’t about finding out which teams’ best, no matter of the cliches have inadvertently packaged them as such. They’re about winning, and thankfully, the best team doesn’t always win. To suggest otherwise would mean we have a lot of explaining to do about the non-2004 history of Greek soccer.

It works the other way, too. Following this sport would be boring if the best team always won, but it would be disingenuous if we assumed the winner was always the best team. It’s better to recognize that over two hours on Saturday, Greece did what it took to win the game. They managed the circumstances of the match better, and while that doesn’t necessarily make them empirically better, it does make them more deserving of moving on.

And there’s no doubt: Greece is more deserving. Nothing about Russia’s performance said “we deserve to be in the final eight.” Greece played to the occasion while Russia played as if they were owed a win just by showing up.

The effort Giorgos Karagounis put forth on that goal? Effort that was match by his teammates for 90 minutes? No doubt Greece deserve their place in the quarters.

3. Don’t take people’s picks too seriously – It’s a spot number expected them to claim. Almost everybody had Greece going out at this stage of the tournament. Does that mean those prognosticators were idiots? Not any more so than it meant Greece wouldn’t make the quarterfinals.

Every site (including ours) offer predictions. They’re a lot of fun, but the best way to ruin that fun is to take them too seriously. After today, does anybody need to be reminded about sports’ beautiful variability?

Not that anybody wants to get picks wrong, but part of the charm behind Greece’s upset lies in those bad predictions. There is an against the odds subtext to their performance that undoubtedly enhances it. How do those odds come about? Predictions.

Discard predictions if you must. You’re also throwing out part of what makes Greece special.

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.