On September 7, Greece played in their first Euro Cup 2016 qualification match at home versus Romania, which also happened to be Claudio Ranieri’s first match as the national team’s skipper. To say this match was a let-down would be an understatement; not only because of an underwhelming performance on their home field, but also because of the number of opportunities Greece failed to take advantage of. Romania did everything but try to serve this game on a platter for Greece. The most recent encounter between these two teams prior to this game was during the 2014 World Cup qualification play-off where Greece eliminated Romania by an aggregate score of 4-2, so it looks like Romania got some revenge.
Leading up to the match, the buzz for Greek fans was all about who would be in the starting squad and which formation the new skipper would go with. Most fans were happy to see that Katsouranis and Gekas were not included on the 25-man roster – and on the flip side, it was a breath of fresh air to see the likes of Athanasiadis (forward), Diamantakos (forward), Fortounis (midfield) and K. Papadopoulos (defense) on the roster, all of whom were left off the World Cup roster.
Ranieri chose to stay with a 4-3-3 formation and went with Mitroglou, Samaras and Salpingidis up front; Samaris, Tachtsidis and Mantalos in the middle; and Torosidis, Papastathopoulos, Manolas and Cholevas in the back. Here are my takeaways with the lineup:
- The midfield is what I was most intrigued with – it was good to see the youngsters Tachtsidis and Samaris get the nod, but Mantalos was a complete shock. This is a player who wasn’t even on the World Cup roster, and he was now starting in the first qualification match.
- Kone and Christodoulopoulos, who played a huge role in Greece’s run in the World Cup, did not start, but would eventually come in off the bench. My gut tells me these players need to be starting.
- Athanasiadis, arguably Greece’s best goal-scorer, got no playing time. This is the guy from PAOK who recently scored the 3rd fastest hat-trick in Europa League history. And with how hard a time Greece is having finding the back of the net, I thought he would be a lock to start.
- The defense is still world-class; Manolas and Papastathopoulos are machines in the center.
The match started off terribly for Greece. In just the 10th minute, Cholevas tripped up the Romanian captain, Marica, in the penalty box, and this lead to a penalty kick that Romania converted for the only goal of the game. Six of Romania’s seven shot-attempts came in the first half and they seemed to control the pace up until the beginning of the second half. In the 53rd minute, Romania’s Marica earned his second yellow card of the game, which meant a red card, so Romania would now have to finish the game (and most of the 2nd half) with only 10 men. Even with this huge advantage, Greece was not able to convert any of their attempts on goal. Six of Greece’s nine attempts came in the second half, and they even ended up winning the possession 61%-39%, but the demon of not being able to score haunted them once again. The closest opportunity to scoring a goal came in the 87th minute when Torosidis hit the cross bar with a header.
Greece has two more qualifying matches coming up quick. They play Finland, in Finland, on Saturday, October 11, and then they play Northern Ireland back at home in Piraeus on Tuesday, October 14. Greece should be able to win both of these games; but at worst, they should at least walk away with a draw in Finland and a win at home against Northern Ireland. Here are some questions, concerns and things to keep an eye on:
- Mitroglou is playing very well for Olympiakos in Champions League, can he return to this form for the National team?
- Who will start in the midfield this time around?
- The total number of goals scored and how easily they are scored should be noted. I would like to see a minimum of 2 goals scored against Northern Ireland.
- Will Athanasiadis finally get some playing time? I would imagine so with the quick turnaround between games.
The following players were called up for the next two qualification matches:
GOALKEEPERS: Orestis Karnezis, Panagiotis Glykos, Stefanos Kapino, Sokratis Dioudis
DEFENDERS: Vasilis Torosidis, Loukas Vyntra, José Cholevas, Kostas Manolas, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Apostolos Skondras, Vangelis Moras, Kostas Stafylidis.
MIDFIELDERS: Giannis Maniatis, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Kostas Fortounis, Andreas Samaris, Alexandros Tziolis, Panagiotis Kone, Charis Mavrias, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos.
FORWARDS: Dimitris Salpingidis, Kostas Mitroglou, Georgios Samaras, Stefanos Athanasiadis, Nikos Karelis.
For a brief description of the Euro Cup format or to see the current standings of this tournament and others, you can always find it on my Blog.