Eight years after shocking Europe with their surprise win at Euro 2004, Greece head to Poland and Ukraine hoping to give their loyal fans something to smile about. While reaching the podium in Kyiv on 1 July might be a stretch for Fernando Santos’ side, the “coincidental similarities” between this tournament and 2004 offer room for optimism in the Greek camp. Peter Katsiris from Greek football blog Football
The similarities include Greece’s participation in the opening game of the tournament against Poland on 8 June, the same situation Greece found themselves in against Portugal back in 2004. Crashing the Portuguese party that year with a 2-1 win in the Lisbon curtain-raiser, Greece will look to do the same to Poland in Warsaw.
That summer, dubbed the “Summer of Greece” because of the nation’s EURO 2004 triumph and the hosting of the Summer Olympics in Athens, was certainly monumental for Greek football. However, despite the promise the National Team offered the Greek supporters, there was no progress achieved by Greece on the club or international level. Failing to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, Greece followed that disappointment by indeed making it to EURO 2008; however, many of the team’s supporters likely wished the team didn’t make it to Austria and Switzerland following a bottom-finish in the group with no points to their name.
Another early exit at the 2010 FIFA World Cup further proved that the world had seen Greece’s playbook of defensive tactics and strategies; hence making it difficult for the 2004 European Champions to put on an encore performance. The situation is similar for Greece this time around as a tight Group with the Poles, Russia and the Czech Republic will makes it difficult for Greece to progress past the group stage – despite the openness of the group.
The opening fixture against Poland will be crucial for Greece’s chances of getting out of the group; a win would help the team gain some momentum to round out the group stage, a loss would deflate the team’s confidence like in 2008 and 2010.
For Greece to be successful, the Greek defense will again need to be strong especially with an inexperienced trio of ‘keepers in the roster. For the first time since Antonis Nikopolidis’ retirement, the situation in the Greece goal is rather nerve-racking for Greek fans as incomplete seasons for Kostas Chalkias, Michalis Sifakis and Kostas Chalkias makes it difficult to trust any of the three ‘keepers. This will see defensemen like Avraam Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos to be called on to hold their own in the Greek back-line, while the versatile Vassilis Torosidis will need to perform now more than ever down the right flank in both the defensive and attacking end.
The old guard of Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis will certainly offer experience to Greece’s EURO challenge, but it will the play of the younger Greeks, like Sotiris Ninis and perhaps Giannis Fetfatzidis that could determine how well the Balkan side does in this summer’s tournament. Two players capable of playing a refreshing type of football compared to what Greece usually offers, Ninis – a likely starter – joins Fetfatzidis as players who are capable of helping Greece turn over a new leaf.
Manager – Fernando Santos: His experience as a manager in the Super League with the likes of PAOK and AEK helped Santos make the transition from club football to international management. The 57-year-old manager has lost just one match since taking over the reins from Otto Rehhagel, and while he hasn’t achieved the celebrity status his predecessor was able to, the Portuguese bench-boss has managed to get his side to play an improved version of football – even if Greece’s game still has defensive tendencies.
One to Watch – Sotiris Ninis: Playing a limited role at the 2010 World Cup, look for Ninis to be a focal point in the Greek attack. Expected to play in a parallel position to Giorgos Samaras down the right flank, Ninis’ combinations with Torosidis and striker Theofanis Gekas will determine how efficient Greece are through the tournament. Better on the ball than without it, Ninis will need to be the playmaker for Greece just like he was for Panathinaikos for the last six seasons. Securing a move to Parma this summer, this will be Ninis best chance to impress his new employers.
Torosidis – Papastathopo – Papadopoulos – Holebas
Salpigidis – Maniatis – Katsouranis – Karagounis – Samaras
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