Just when Greek fans didn’t think it could get any worse, it did. After losing 0-1 to Romania in their first Euro Cup 2016 qualifying match back in September, the Greek National Soccer Team began its preparations for both Finland and Northern Ireland, whom they’d play on match-days 2 and 3. The two games took place within three days of one another and the results were rather daunting.
First up was Finland. Greece traveled to Helsinki on October 11 to take on their match-day 2 opponent, and they played well for the most part – but not well enough to win. Greece struck first in the 24th minute with a rocket from outside of the box from Karelis, a 22-year-old newcomer to the national team; however, in the 55th minute, Finland’s Hurme would score the equalizer and that’s how the game would end, in a 1-1 draw.
Next up was Northern Ireland on October 14. Having won both of their previous matches, Northern Ireland was coming into the match with a lot of momentum. But some would argue that Northern Ireland’s first two matches against weaker opponents like Hungary and Faroe Islands could have gone either way. Expectations though were that Greece would win this game, or at least tie – especially since it was at home in Piraeus. But Northern Ireland struck quickly with a goal in the 9th minute, and with an unexpected defensive substitution in the 17th minute for the injured Vyntra, the game didn’t get off to a good start for the home team. Greece’s woes on offense continued as they failed to find the back of the net for the second time in three games, and Northern Ireland went on to win the match 2-0 after scoring again in the 51st minute.
It’s not looking good for the new skipper, Ranieri. In his first three matches as coach, the national team has gone 0-1-2 in the European Qualifiers and has only earned one point in the standings. It is apparent that Ranieri is still trying to figure out the starting lineup – he’s used three different sets of forwards in each game so far, and with three more players coming back from injury, the line-up carousel will likely continue. I understand why he’s doing this, but not the timing. Ranieri should have arranged some friendly matches prior to the European Qualifiers to figure this all out rather than trying to do so on the fly. The team needs to begin building chemistry and that’s not going to happen until there’s some consistency with the lineup.
Match-Day 4 Call-Ups
Injured: Cholevas, Salpingidis, Papastahopoulos, Fortounis
Goalkeepers: Karnezis, Glykos, Kapino
Defense: Torosidis, Manolas, A. Papadopoulos, Moras, Vyntra, Karabelas, Bakakis, Tasoulis
Midfield: Maniatis, Samaris, Tachtsidis, Kone, Christodoulopoulos, Kolovos, Tziolis, Mantalos, Mavrias
Forwards: Athanasiadis, Karelis, Gekas, Dinas
Heading into match-day 4, Ranieri has again decided to switch things up – but this time, sending some shock waves throughout the Greek fan base. Ranieri has opted to call up former national team players Gekas (yes, our favorite player Gekas) and Salpingidis (who is now injured), and leave Samaras and Mitroglou at home. Sure, Gekas is leading the Turkish Super Lig in scoring with nine goals in as many games, but success in league play doesn’t always translate into success on the international stage. Gekas has choked on the world stage multiple times, and my worry is that he will find success against the weak match-day 4 opponent to establish himself as Ranieri’s favorite for the job.
But let’s be honest, Samaras and Mitroglou haven’t played their best soccer lately either. But do they really deserve to stay home? The answer is NO. Some argue their late arrival in the season to their current clubs has kept them out of game shape, but they can still add value to the team by either coming off of the bench later in the game or in a leadership role with all of the experience and success they’ve previously had on the world stage. I can’t imagine the team is better off without these guys, but let’s hope Ranieri proves me wrong. I’m curious to see which forwards start the game, and I’m assuming (OK, hoping) it will be Athanasiadis and Karelis. But that will also depend on the formation Ranieri choses to go with – the speculation is that he’s trying to transition the team from a 4-3-3 formation with three forwards to a 4-4-2 with only two up front. And having only called up four forwards would justify this, but then again we have plenty of attacking midfielders that could fill in on the wings up front in a 4-3-3. I guess we’ll find out on game-day.
Greece is also getting some players back from injury. Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Panagiotis Kone; both of whom played a major role in Greece’s recent World Cup campaign and both of whom missed the two previous qualification matches against Finland and Northern Ireland. Both of these players will now be available for Greece’s match on November 14, and here’s hoping they can bring back some of that World Cup magic to what’s been a sub-par performance in the European Qualifiers thus far.
Greece’s next match is on Friday, November 14 against Faroe Islands, who head into match-day 4 having lost all three of their previous matches. With Greece’s current slump, the match against Faroe Islands couldn’t have come at a better time. This is a game that Greece is not only expected to win, but by a healthy margin as well. And with the match being played a home in Piraeus, there is absolutely no reason why Greece shouldn’t walk away with a win – a badly needed win. Since the European Qualifiers don’t resume again until the end of March 2015, a win will also be nice for all the players to sit on during the long break. This game will say a lot, and in my eyes, will determine whether or not Greece has what it takes to qualify for Euro Cup 2016. Remember, only the top two teams from each group move on and the 3rd place teams will head to a play-off, so Greece needs to wake up since they find themselves in 2nd to last place in one of the weaker groups of the European Qualifiers.
Group F Standings after Match-Day 3
Update 11/9/2014: Papastathopoulos, Salpingidis, Fortounis and Cholevas all have been ruled out of this week’s match against the Faroe Islands due to injury. Vyntra, Kolovos, Tasoulis and Dinas have replaced them on the roster.
Like always, feel free to check out my Greek Soccer Standings page on my website for the current standings of all soccer teams related to Greece – including the Greek Super League, Champions League, Europa League, the Greek Cup and the Greek National Team.