My apologies to the legions of fans of this blog who were disappointed by the lack of an update after Greece’s latest in a long line of major tournament debacles. As a result of a few non-Euro 2012 related study commitments (how dare my university set exams during the sacred football month of June), I’m caught in a bit of a no-man’s land, unable to dedicate an entire piece to the post-mortem of the 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic on the eve of what is probably our final appearance at these finals against Russia.
So unsurprisingly frustrating was the last performance that it warrants some type of analysis, so in the interests of covering all bases, I’ll turn to what I consider to be the greatest film of all time as providing the framework for this piece.
Greece need to beat Russia to progress.
This is the nightmare scenario we feared before the competition began and it has come to fruition: the Russians with everything to play for, by no means assured of their place in the next round and approaching the match in good form. WRONG
This is the nightmare scenario we feared before the competition began and it has come to fruition: Greece will need to score a goal in their final group game.
A harsh assessment? Consider that the two goals we’ve scored in Poland have come courtesy of goalkeeping blunders, presenting our strikers with an empty net to slot the ball into – in truth, on neither occasion was I remotely confident that they would actually succeed, given this team’s lack of attacking confidence and ideas.
Despite again improving after the break, this Greek side proved utterly devoid of hunger, creativity and adventure in attack. Is it a coaching issue or simply a case of the players not being good or willing enough to score goals? I’m going to say the latter, though the managerial post-mortem I’ll leave till after our participation in the tournament has concluded (so make sure you’re at this page on Sunday).
Taking the initiative and winning games is something this squad hasn’t done well over the past decade and to suddenly try to do so against a team that is lethal on the counter-attack and extremely mobile would be suicidal. So it’ll probably me more of the same from Fernando Santos’ men, who will look to keep things tight and pinch a goal at some point – not that it’s worked for them particularly well so far against sides of far lesser ability.
So, just to recap, the scenario is as follows: a team that doesn’t know how to attack needs to attack a team that operates exclusively and successfully on the counter-attack (and they only need to draw to progress).
After almost being punished for a slow start in their opening game against Poland, the Greeks recovered and learned from their mistake, starting strongly against Czech Republic side who were always likely to come out firing after their 4-1 defeat. WRONG
After almost being punished for a slow start in their opening game against Poland, the Greeks did exactly the same thing in their second game and were punished even more severely by a Czech Republic side who were always likely to come out firing after their 4-1 defeat.
This side has its limitations, so defeat in either, both, or all three of its matches at the group stages of Euro 2012 would hardly have come as a shock. A slow start against Poland is also forgivable given it does happen in football, understandable also because of the scale of the occasion and the fact that the opposing team were the host nation. But to do it a second time, just days after, in a far worse manner and against a team who were always going to replicate the approach of the Poles, is simply unacceptable.
Were these players not expecting anything different? If they weren’t, then the question has to be asked: were they aware that a football game was underway somewhere in Wroclaw while they were cruising through the opening half? (Just to clarify, there was a Euro 2012 game in Wroclaw at that exact time between Greece and the Czech Republic...)
Even with Fernando Santos’ changes at half time, the performance was only fractionally improved in the second half, thanks largely to the Czechs taking their foot off the gas and losing Tomas Rosicky to injury. A lack of creativity is nothing new for this team and going for a direct route to goal was always going to be the result. What is particularly galling about that approach though is the sheer lack of intensity, conviction and desire behind it, with nowhere near enough players committing themselves forward or looking as if they wanted the ball in order to change the game.
Despite the largely turgid performance, somehow Greece enter their final group game with their destiny entirely in their hands.
A victory would ensure them a place in the knockout stages regardless of other results and if they were to perform a miracle and beat the Russians – make no mistake about it, it would be nothing short of a miracle if it happened – then Theofanis Gekas’ goal against the Czechs will be of a similar significance to that scored by Zisis Vryzas against Russia in 2004.
When you consider Italy - who have been placed in a far tougher group and performed better than Greece, picking up two points from games against Spain and Croatia – might still be heading home if they win their final match against Ireland, it really is amazing that Greece are in such a position.
Further boosts for Santos include the return of first-choice centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who will allow Kostas Katsouranis – whose aimless punts into the box reminded me of why I have directed so much vitriol towards him before his improved performance against Poland - to return to midfield, bringing a little more balance to the side. Kostas Chalkias meanwhile has been ruled out through injury in a blessing that can barely be disguised after he cost his side at least two goals in its opening two games, allowing for the far more steady Michalis Sifakis to take his place between the sticks.
Logic tells me Russia will win this match by a comfortable margin but Dick Advocaat’s side certainly aren’t invincible, as they showed the other night as they were held to a 1-1 draw by the hosts.
Is it too much to hope that this team can rouse itself for just 90 minutes and summon up the backs-to-the-wall mentality that has kept it alive in the tournament thus far?
We Greece fans are long overdue a miracle...