Much like ESPN’s “STIPIKI” poster, Greece’s World Cup match against Japan was a hot mess – and not for the reasons you may think. Well, kind of for the reason you might think. Since Greece ended in a tie with Japan, I’m not going to go into too much detail about that match. However, it should be noted that Greece is still alive heading into their 3rd group match, which is more than I can say for superpowers Spain and England.
If you are a fan of Greece and watched the game against Japan, I’m sure you were completely stressed out the entire time like I was. The sad part is, Coach Santos finally played a lineup I could endorse (for the most part), but with the way things played out, Euripides couldn’t write a better Greek Tragedy if he tried.
Santos started Samaras, Mitroglou and Fefatzidis up front; Kone, Maniatis and Katsouranis in the midfield; and Cholevas, Papastothopoulos, Manolas and Torosidis on defense. The three players I’d like to focus on are Mitroglou, Fetfatzidis and Katsouranis – because those of you following my articles know that I’ve been screaming for Mitro and Fetfat to play, and have been shouting even louder for Katsouranis to stay on the bench. And what happens? Within a period of about 10 minutes, everything is turned upside down.
27th minute: Katsouranis gets a yellow card for slide tackling someone from behind – a definite “no, no”, but something older players tend to do when they get burned by their opponent.
35th minute: Mitroglou comes out of the game because of an injury. Although he got hit hard, the day after the game he stated he was “100%” which makes me question his passion and motivation.
38th minute: Katsouranis gets a second yellow card, for slide tackling again. Two yellow cards in the same game turns into a red card, so Katsouranis was ejected from the match and Greece was forced to play with only 10 players.
With only 10 players, there was no way Greece was going to win that match – the best possible outcome was a tie. Following the red card, Santos immediately pulled Fetfatzidis from the game in favor of a more defensive-minded lineup. Unfortunately for Greece fans, you were now forced to watch a game with very little to no excitement as the Mitro-Fetfat connection was prematurely brought to an end. It’s almost as if the Soccer Gods are taking Santos’ side which drives me even crazier. On the bright side, Greece fans can thank Torosidis, Manolas and Papastathopoulos for playing their hearts outs – they were clearly the MVP’s of the game. This was also the first clean sheet for Greece in a World Cup match; they have allowed a goal in every other World Cup game they have played in.
So what now?
In order for Greece to advance to the next stage of the World Cup, they must beat their next opponent, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and Colombia must win or tie against Japan. If Greece ties or loses their next game, they are eliminated. The sad part is, Greece could technically win 1-0 and advance to the next round having scored only 1 goal during the entire group stage. So who is Ivory Coast and what do we need to worry about? The three players to focus on are:
1. Gervais Yao Kouassi, aka Gervinho. He is a striker who plays for Roma in Italy’s Serie A league and has scored two of the three goals for Ivory Coast so far in the tournament. He is a good dribbler, has a quick burst and can obviously finish an attack. What scares me most is he plays on the right side, so he will be matched up against our weakest defender, Cholevas.
2. Yaya Toure. He is a midfielder who plays for Manchester City in the English Premiere League. He is an amazing passer and has great control of the game between the boxes. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name a lot during the commentary.
3. Didier Drogba. He is a forward who plays for Galatasaray in the Turkish Super Lig, but he spent most of his career playing for Chealsea in the English Premiere League. At 36-years-old he is definitely past his prime, but don’t let that fool you. Drogba has not started either of the first two games for Ivory Coast, but his presence is definitely felt when he comes into the game. Not only does the tone of the game change when Drogba enters, but Ivory Coast has not been able to score any goals during this World Cup without him on the field.
Enough about them, what about the Greek squad? The rumors are surely swirling about what Santos is going to do. To be honest, I have no idea what Santos is going to do. Nor do I know what I want him to do anymore. He has played with my emotions so much that I’m now numb to the fact that old-yeller, Fanis Gekas, might start at center forward again. I can’t imagine there will much change to the defensive lineup, so I’m going to focus on the forwards and midfielders.
As a reminder, Greece has been playing a 4-3-3 formation – four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards. Up front against Japan, Santos opted for Samaras on the left, Mitroglou in the center and Fetfatzidis on the right. There is nothing coming out of the Greece camp supporting Mitroglou or Fetfatzidis starting, so both of them will likely be back on the bench to start the game. Dimitris Salpingidis will likely start on the right again; and there have been a couple of different player combinations that Santos has used during practice for the left and center. One of the combos is the usual suspects – Samaras on the left and Gekas in the middle – and you all know how I feel about Gekas. The other combination that intrigued me was moving Samaras to the middle and bringing in Lazaros Christodoulopoulos on the left. I’ll take that – anything but Gekas, please!
The midfield is what I worry about most, and I’m sure I’ll know what the outcome of the game will be based on the players Santos chooses to play here. Santos played Katsouranis, Kone and Maniatis in the midfield against the Japanese. Old faithful, the 37-year-old Giorgos Karagounis, is the likely replacement for the red-carded Katsouranis. This wouldn’t be my first choice, but hey, he could do worse. Kone will likely remain on the field as an attacking midfielder, but he did not play very well last game. He ran and played hard, but wasn’t able to orchestrate anything. Maniatis played OK, but we need to do more than just OK if we want to score our first goal. Can you believe Greece and Iran are the only two teams that have not scored a goal so far in the World Cup?
The player I worry about most starting in the midfield is Alexandros Tziolis, and I bring this up only because Santos was toying around with the lineup during some practice drills and brought Tziolis in with the starters. He moved Kone to the right-forward position and brought on Tziolis as the third midfielder. If Santos wants to move Kone up front, let’s hope we see Andreas Samaris or the youngster, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, before we see Tziolis on the field.
Greece’s next game against Ivory Coast is on Tuesday at 4:00 PM EST. The two teams have never faced one another, but Greece’s record against African nations is 10 wins, 7 ties and 13 losses. If Greece wins and Japan loses their game, then Greece advances to the next round where every game is an elimination game. Hopefully my next article will be talking about what Greece must do to win their next game instead of being a nasty open letter to Coach Santos.
Fun Fact: Greece conceded almost as many goals (3) in their opening game against Colombia as in their entire World Cup qualifying campaign (four goals in 10 matches).
Thanasi Papoulias is a guest writer for The Pappas Post