“It will be a big mistake to play for a draw against Greece” says Dick Advocaat. He is right for two important reasons. Firstly, it will be against Russia’s nature to defend from the start, and their weakest link, the slow pair of centre-backs, will likely crack under constant pressure. Secondly, it is extremely important to finish top of the group in order to avoid meeting Germany in the quarter-finals. A draw might not be enough to assure first place if Czech Republic beat Poland, and thus it is wise for Russia to mentally prepare themselves to fight for three points against Fernando Santos’ side.
Here are a few tips that might be useful to achieve this goal.
A. Attack from the very first minute. Greece proved to be very slow starters in both of their games at Euro 2012 so far. They were virtually nonexistent in the first half against Poland, as the hosts should have scored much more than just a solitary Robert Lewandowski goal. The Greeks went “one better” against the Czechs, conceding two goals in the first six minutes, thus setting a new European Championship record. The previous one, by the way, was a hefty 16 minutes, with Frank Rijkaard and Rob Witschge scoring for Holland against Germany 20 years ago. It will be difficult to surprise Greece with an outright attacking attitude, but they will most likely be found unprepared nevertheless. Take them by storm, as scoring an early goal will be of huge significance. After all, Greece are still to concede a goal in the second half in this tournament. It is also quite ironic to mention that Russia scored the fastest ever goal in the tournament against Greece, with Dmitry Kirichenko netting after 68 seconds at Euro 2004.
B. If Fernando Santos chooses to play the dreadfully out-of-form Jose Holebas at left-back again, he should be taken advantage of. Jakub Blaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszczek, Theodor Gebre Selassie and Petr Jiracek already exposed Holebas’ awful positioning, and there is little doubt Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Anyukov can do the same. Another useful idea will be to send Andrei Arshavin to the relevant wing from time to time, and instruct Roman Shirokov to pop up there as often as possible.
C. Keep an eye on opponents’ fastest players, especially Dimitris Salpingidis. The man who is responsible for the fabulous comeback against Poland poses the major threat to Aleksei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich with his sheer pace. Vaclav Pilar used his speed to score the consolation goal against Russia in the opening fixture, and that type of through balls is the most dangerous weapon of Greece as well. Giorgos Karagounis, the man whose vision remains his major asset, could easily split the defence a couple of times, and conceding the first goal will be a huge setback for the team not renowned for mental strength.
D. Don’t make stupid fouls. Karagounis is yet to perform a dangerous free kick in this tournament, but that doesn’t mean he forgot how to shoot them. This is his second major asset, and Igor Denisov will be extremely wise not to make rush challenges around his penalty area.
E. Don’t even think about the Swedish referee. It is difficult to overcome the trauma of Erik Fredriksson who ruined not one but two World Cup campaigns for the Soviets, first allowing two offside Belgium goals to stand in the last 16 in Mexico-86, and then overlooking a Diego Maradona goal-line handball clearance four years later. Russia can be paranoid at times, and seeing another Swedish official, Jonas Eriksson, doesn’t add any confidence. There is absolutely no reason to fear, and negative thoughts will only do a lot of harm to the team itself. Remember – it is Greece who suffered most from refereeing errors so far in this tournament. They should be the ones who feel harshly treated, not Russia. If Advocaat’s side loses this one to a much inferior opposition, they will only have themselves to blame.
If the Greece coaches read this, they might already have understood what they have to do to improve their chances. Santos should play as many fast players as possible, with the Giannis Fetfatzidis option to be considered. He should drop Holebas, and employ the universal Vasilis Torosidis on the left, moving Sokratis Papastathopoulos to the right, and keeping Kostas Katsouranis to partner Kyriakos Papadopoulos in central defence. Greece should also do their utmost to make Russia players feel uncomfortable psychologically. Playing ultra-defensive football in the first minutes, and trying to make some swift counter-attacks might be useful in that respect. Even shouting the name of Fredriksson is a cute way to go, when Eriksson doesn’t hear. On the other hand, my colleague Chris Paraskevas would possibly disagree with some of these points.