Greece Camp Focus – The Piratiko struggle as Rehhagal draws criticism

Greece began their countdown to the World Cup with a friendly match against North Korea in Switzerland which raised more questions than answers. The 2-2 draw did not do much to raise expectations during what has been a far from ideal preparation period so far.

Coach, Otto Rehhagal drew much criticism by his apparent reluctance to include young players in his provisional and very defensive 30 man squad (almost half of the players are defenders). The decision to give a first international call-up to Thanassis Prittas – at the tender age of 31 – and the inclusion of Christos Patsatzoglou, a player whose season was fragmented by injury, only seemed to highlight the lack of new blood the German Coach is willing to take a chance on. However, injury proved too much for the German based duo Ioannis Amanatidis and Vasileios Pliatsikas. The conservative Coach is strongly inclined towards continuity, and although this has achieved qualification for the tournament, pessimists will point to his teams’ humiliating defence of their European Championship at Euro 2008, where they were eliminated from the tournament without winning a game. The squad, which will be trimmed to the final 23 representatives on June 1, did include the surprise call-up of Steaua Bucharest striker Pantelis Kapitanos following an impressive domestic season. The provisional squad also features18-year-old Kostas Manolas and 22-year-old Stergos Marinos, both uncapped defenders. However, it remains to be seen how many of these surprise call-ups will be in the final 23.

A deserved 2-0 defeat to a team who will not even be at the World Cup in the shape of Senegal back in March, served to further dampen expectations. Qualification out of a tough looking group now seems like an unlikely prospect, particularly after the disappointing 2-2 draw with North Korea. The recent unrest in Athens had a knock-on effect to the nations’ preparations for South Africa, protracting the end of the Greek Superleague and delaying the assembling of the full squad at their Swiss training camp, giving them just a few days to prepare for the game. Instead of his trademark three centre-backs, Rehhagal opted for a 4-3-3 formation, with Alexandros Tziolis selected as an auxiliary holding midfield player. At right-back, Loukas Vyntra started ahead of the normally preferred Giourkas Seitaridis, but the injury worry replaced Vyntra at half-time. Kostas Katsouranis opened the scoring for the Ethniki after just two minutes, but they were soon pegged back when Jong Tae-Se equalized. After an interval which saw almost half the team replaced, Greece were back in front, this time through Angelos Charisteas but Tae-Se cancelled out the Greek lead for second time just minutes later.

The game raised further concerns regarding the Greek’s ability to cope with the stern tests ahead of them. With Paraguay to come, their three warm-up games are against African, Asian and South American opponents, mimicking their group stage opposition of Nigeria, Korea Republic and Argentina. After failing the African test against Senegal, they did not fare much better against North Korea. A match in which their physical presence was expected to be enough to see them to victory, they constantly looked devoid of ideas in possession of the ball and both their goals, inevitably, came from set-pieces. They struggled against the high energy pressing of the Koreans, who looked noticeably fitter and understandably better prepared.

By the time the Piratiko play their next game against Paraguay on June 2, their squad will have been chopped down to the final 23 heading to South Africa and this will give an insight into their German Coach’s plans for the tournament. His team selection, and tactics have been affected by injuries to important players, but he now needs to make some difficult decisions and decide whether he will gamble on the fitness of Patsatzoglou and Seitaridis. If the result against North Korea can be put down to their far from ideal preparation so far, there will be no similar understanding should they fall short against a South American team providing a practice run of their daunting final group match against Argentina. Rehhagal would appear to be discarding the 5-4-1 that served him so well at Euro 2004 and opting for a more orthodox 4-3-3 in most cases resembling a 4-5-1, but over reliance on a solid defence and effectiveness at set-pieces is not going to be nearly enough to trouble their group stage opponents.

Provisional 30-man squad:

Goalkeepers
Michalis Sifakis (Aris Salonika)
Alexandros Tzorvas (Panathinaikos)
Kostas Chalkias (PAOK Salonika)

Defenders
Giorgos Seitaridis (Panathinaikos)
Loukas Vintra (Panathinaikos)
Evangelos Moras (Bologna)
Socrates Papastathopoulos (Genoa)
Sotiris Kyrgiakos (Liverpool)
Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos)
Vasilis Torosidis (Olympiakos)
Nikos Spiropoulos (Panathinaikos)
Stelios Malezas (PAOK Salonika)
Giorgos Tzavellas (Panionios)
Kostas Manolas (AEK Athens)
Giorgos Galitsios (Olympiakos)

Stergos Marinos (Panathinaikos).

Midfielders
Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos)
Alexandros Tziolis (Siena)
Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos)
Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos)
Christos Patsatzoglou (Omonia)
Grigoris Makos (AEK Athens)
Sakis Prittas (Aris Salonika)
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Panathinaikos).

Forwards
Angelos Charisteas (Nuremberg)
Dimitris Salpigidis (Panathinaikos)
Pantelis Kapetanos (Steaua Bucharest)
Theofanis Gekas (Hertha Berlin)
Giorgos Samaras (Celtic)
Kostas Mitroglou (Olympiakos).

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