Greece needs a miracle like 2004
Group A: Greece vs Russia
Friday, 16 June 2012
2045 (local time); 1445(EST); 0015(IST)
National Stadium, Warsaw
The Greeks have been riled, ridiculed and belittled even when they won the Euro. In 2012 edition, they have been a group who had a surprisingly smooth progress to the tournament proper but in both their matches, very weak starts have spoiled any chance of a positive result. They conceded in the 17th minute in the first match and then had a man down by the middle of the first half. In the second match, they were down by two goals within the opening ten minutes. Both times they fought back, showing indomitable spirit and should have won the first match, but for a botched penalty against a substitute goalkeeper. Today they face their greatest challenge – to start on a positive note. That would mean keeping the marauding Russians at bay. The left side has been the most vulnerable and Poland could have scored multiple goals in the opening half hour (as the Czechs did) from that side. The manager would do to plug that gap, if he is to keep Arshavin and company at bay. The return of ex-Milanista Sokratis Papasthopoulos in the defence, after his harsh red card in the opening match would probably be much welcomed. In the attack, Dimitrios Salpigidis has been the miracle man. But most of what comes to Georgios Samaras, has seemed futile. That is another position that the manager can change in the final XI.
The task of the Greeks is maginified because the Russians are themselves not assured of a berth in the next round. The Russians have played attractive football and Alan Dzagoev is probably having a breakout tournament, placing himself prominently in the transfer window. Andrei Arshavin, back in Russia after a troubled year in Arsenal, has again looked like the menace of 2008 Euros – a display that had sparked his transfer to Arsenal. There is some problem in the attack though and that is with Aleksandr Kerzhakov. A vital man for Dick Advocaat from his Zenit days, Kerzhakov has a tournament leading 10 shots off target. Russia only needs a draw to advance but a win will assure them of the top position and will probably allow them to avoid Germany in the quarter-finals (if one may hazard a prediction about Group B).
The Russians have created the second highest number of chances (shots taken) and has looked quite an efficient team in both their matches. Losing to the Greeks and crashing out of the Euros will be a disaster as big as their loss to Slovenia on away-goals rule in the play-off for 2010 world cup.
The Greeks have only ever qualified for the knock-out rounds of one major tournament and they won that one. Their spirit has been commendable in this tournament but if they can bank on spirit alone to qualify for their second ever qualifying round is the question.
Teams & Formations
Greece (4-3-3): Michalis Sifakis; Vasilios Torosidis, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, José Holebas; Ioannis Maniatis, Konstantinos Katsouranis, Georgios Karagounis; Dimitrios Salpigidis, Theofanis Gekas, Georgios Samaras
Manager: Fernando Santos
One would expect Russia to start strong and exploit the weak left side of the Greeks and then sit back and hit on the counter. They have the firepower to overwhelm the Greeks but before the business end of the tournament starts, the manager would want to get all his misifiring squad into shape.
Russia(4-2-3-1): Viatcheslav Malafeev;Alexander Anyukov, Alexei Berezutski, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov; Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov; Konstantin Zyrianov, Alan Dzagoev, Alexandr Kerzhakov; Andrey Arshavin
Manager: Dick Advocaat
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
“If we get into the match early, or better yet, straight from the referee’s whistle – if we go into it focused and don’t make those mistakes – then I think our team has a chance of achieving what we want.”
Fernando Santos wants his Greece team to start strong.
“He can score out of nothing, even though he may not play that well.”
Dick Advocaat defends his misfiring striker Aleksandr Kerzakhov