Greece is preparing to take on Hungary on Sunday, March 29 as part of their campaign to qualify for Euro Cup 2016. The Ranieri experiment has been a complete disaster for the national team; the Italian skipper led the team to a record of 0 wins, 1 draw and 3 losses in their first four games which puts them in last place in their group. The loss against Faroe Islands is not only the worst loss in the history of the national team, but it can also be seen as one of the biggest upsets in the history of international competition too.
I liked Ranieri’s instinct to call up some younger players, but I believe he overstepped his boundaries by opting to start most of them because there was a clear lack of leadership on the pitch. The poor line-up choices combined with the lack of friendlies leading up to the tournament left the Greek team in disarray. Greek fans were left scratching their heads because this was the team that made it to the second round of the 2014 World Cup less than a year ago. Greece is now sitting at the bottom of their Euro Cup Qualification group with only 1 point and are in a must-win situation from here on out. Greece typically plays their best soccer when the tournament is on the line, so let’s hope that’s the case this time around too.
The Hellenic Football Federation fired Ranieri following the tragic loss against Faroe Islands on November 14 and appointed the 70-year-old Uruguayan national of Armenian descent, Sergio Markarian, as the new skipper of the national team. He has previously coached both the national teams of Peru and Paraguay, and over a period of six years he was at the helm for three different Greek clubs too; Panathinaikos, Ionikos and Iraklis. Changing coaches mid-tournament was a bold move, but one that was needed nonetheless. The verdict is still out on Markarian, but we’re all hoping for the best.
The top three teams in Greece’s group right now are Romania, Northern Ireland and Hungary, with 10 points, 9 points and 7 points respectively. The top two teams automatically qualify for the tournament, and the 3rd place teams go to a playoff where only half of them will advance. Each team plays one another in their group twice (10 games total), and since Greece has yet to play the third place team, Hungary, they still have a decent chance to advance. With only six matches left, they’ll need to avoid losses and win key match-ups against Hungary (twice) and Faroe Islands, and win at least one more against Romania, Northern Ireland and Finland. A loss will be devastating and will likely end the campaign; but it also depends on how the other teams in the group are performing.
Update March 24, 2015 – Jose Cholevas and Kostas Mitroglou were injured in league play and have been replaced on the national team by Loukas Vyntra and Apostolos Giannou, respectively.
On Friday, March 20, Markarian announced his call-ups for the next match against Hungary. The players are:
Karnezis, Kapino, Vellidis, Torosidis, K. Papadopoulos, Manolas,
Cholevas, Vyntra, Bakakis, Siovas, Papastathopoulos, Moras, Stafylidis, Tachtsidis, Katsouranis, Fortounis, Lagos, Samaris, Christodoulopoulos, Fetfatzidis, Gianniotas, Kone, Mitroglou, Giannou, Karelis, and Athanasiadis.
Its worth mentioning that Katsouranis, Fetfatzidis, K. Papadopoulos and Fortounis are back on the team after not being called up by the previous coach, while Samaras (injury), Maniatis (injury), Gekas and Salpingidis did not receive a call-up. Depending on what formation the new skipper chooses to go with, I’m anticipating the following players to be the best contenders for the starting job, with my preference in italics. But you never know what a new coach is thinking.
GK: Karnezis, Kapino
Def: Torosidis, Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Vyntra, Papadopoulos, Moras
Mid: Fortounis, Fetfatzidis, Kone, Samaris, Christodoulopoulos, Katsouranis, Tachtsidis
Fwd: Athanasiadis, Karelis
Remaining Schedule for Greece
March 29, 2015 vs. Hungary (Away)
June 13, 2015 vs. Faroe Islands (Away)
September 4, 2015 vs. Finland (Home)
September 7, 2015 vs. Romania (Away)
October 8, 2015 vs. Northern Ireland (Away)
October 11, 2015 vs. Hungary (Home)
Best of luck to the new skipper and to the Greek National Team! The country could use some good news right about now. Don’t forget to check out my Greek Soccer Standings page for everything related to Greek soccer.