Euro 2012 preview: Greece
Euro 2008 was something of a damp squib for the champions of 2004 - can they make a splash in Ukraine and Poland? Jonathan Wilson casts an expert eye over Greece
Greece are compact, stubborn, pragmatic, but most of all, effective
The players change, the manager changes, but the method doesnÃ¢ÂÂt. When Greece faced Croatia in October, they had to win to retake top spot from Slaven BilicÃ¢ÂÂs side with one game to go. Amid a fierce atmosphere in Piraeus in which at least two petrol bombs were thrown, you might have expected a ferocious start: a cavalry charge to capitalise on the fervour and have the game won before Croatia could come to terms with the mayhem. Instead, the first half could hardly have been more soporific - on the pitch at least - and Greece won thanks to the familiar route of two goals from set-pieces in the final 20 minutes.
Greece under Fernando Santos are compact, stubborn, pragmatic in the extreme, threatening from set-plays and undeniably effective. Having won the league with Porto and been named coach of the decade in Greece for his work with Panathinaikos, AEK and PAOK, the Portuguese replaced Otto Rehhagel in July 2010. From there, Greece went 17 games unbeaten before a 3-1 home defeat to Romania in a friendly in November. It says something of the caution in the Greek approach, though, that of the 19 games Santos has overseen, eight have been drawn.
Santos preferred a 4-3-3 for most of the campaign, but itÃ¢ÂÂs certainly not the Barcelona Ã¢ÂÂfalse nineÃ¢ÂÂ model or even ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs targetman approach. There are no wingers - rather, Santos has three forwards who roam looking for scraps; a classic broken team who sit eight men behind the ball. Theofanis Gekas, once of Portsmouth (literally - he made one appearance as sub), came out of international retirement to become first-choice centre-forward. He usually has Georgios Samaras of Celtic to his left and PAOKÃ¢ÂÂs Dimitris Salpigidis on his right.
Angelos Charisteas, who scored the winner in the Euro 2004 Final, still floats around the squad as back-up at the age of 32, while there is real excitement in Greece at the potential of 21-year-old Olympiakos forward Ioannis Fetfatzidis. Nicknamed Ã¢ÂÂthe Greek MessiÃ¢ÂÂ, partly because the club helped pay for growth hormone treatment, he is highly gifted technically and has already played 12 times for the national team. In an otherwise solid and hardworking squad, he adds a dash of flair and imagination, even if his one-in-six goalscoring record for Olympiakos leaves him some way behind the real Messi.
Kostas Katsouranis and Giorgos Karagounis continue to patrol midfield as they did eight years ago, with Alexandros Tziolis the favourite to join them, although with Giorgos Theodoridis, Giorgos Fotakis and Pantelis Kafes, Santos could go for a trio of thirty-somethings.
The backline is more youthful: 20-year-old Kyriakos Papadopoulos, an elegant ball-playing centre-back-cum-midfielder, offers hints that the way ahead may not be so painfully functional. Then again, the recent past has been the most successful spell in Greek football history, so while the rest of the world may not want to watch it, they see no great reason to change.
Katsouranis and Karagounis continue to run the midfield
Lesson from qualifying
If it ainÃ¢ÂÂt broke, donÃ¢ÂÂt fix it. Up to 2004, Greece had qualified for only one World Cup and one European Championship; since then theyÃ¢ÂÂve qualified for two more Euros and another World Cup. The football may not have much flair, but its effectiveness is beyond doubt. Manager Santos, wisely, has not changed a winning model.
Greece are a physically powerful side, more reliant on brawn than brain to break down opponents. They donÃ¢ÂÂt concede many goals - just five in 10 qualifying games - and present a major threat from set-pieces, as Croatia found out. ItÃ¢ÂÂs likely to be attritional - men behind the ball then long forward passes on the counter - but the model has served them well for years. They also have experience; as many as five of the 2004 squad could line up this time around.
They donÃ¢ÂÂt score many either: 14 in 10 in qualifying, only netting more than two in a game once - against Malta. Unless Fetfatzidis is given his chance, they lack imagination: they can frustrate good sides, but canÃ¢ÂÂt pick apart teams who defend against them. Also, the midfield in particular looks old: you wonder how their legs will stand up to the summer heat.
Did you know?
In 2004, Greece became known as Ã¢ÂÂthe pirate shipÃ¢ÂÂ when they shocked hosts Portugal 2-1 in their first game, following a lavish opening ceremony that featured a replica 16th-century Portuguese ship. Euro championship, ahoy!
Antonis Oikonomidis, Sportday reporter
"Summer 2004. Greece sees its finest moment: the Olympics provide a basis for development and prosperity, and they win the Euros. Summer 2012. Greece is bankrupt. One in five are unemployed, one in two live in poverty, and the migratory stream reaches record levels.
"One of the few factors in common is Greece making the Euros. No one expects a coronation - miracles happen only once - but this team is one of the very few things Greeks still believe in. Qualification from the group would almost be equivalent to winning and is a realistic target. This team allows Greeks to dream."
Unlikely to progress without more creativity.
Could Papadopoulos be the rock on which more Greek success is built?
Euro 2012 could be the coming of age for Schalke and GreeceÃ¢ÂÂs young centre-back. Comfortable in front of the back four but most at home in the heart of the defence, heÃ¢ÂÂs in the Bundesliga top five for tackles, interceptions and blocked shots this season. A big-game player, he could provide the foundations for another Greece upset.
The previous decade saw the most successful era in GreeceÃ¢ÂÂs football history, with the high point being, of course, the Euros win in 2004. Santos took the coaching position in 2010 and will have a job topping that. Prior to his appointment, though, the Greek Football League rewarded his domestic efforts with the Ã¢ÂÂcoach of the decadeÃ¢ÂÂ award.
How they play
It may look an aggressive formation on paper, but Greece sit eight men behind the ball, with the front three living off scraps. Greece will be hoping that experience proves key to their forward line. They have a combined age of 89, sharing 162 caps and 35 goals. Katsouranis and Maniatis will double up as the midfield anchors in charge of keeping teams at bay.
June 8, Poland (Warsaw, 5pm)
June 12, Czech Republic (Wroclaw, 5pm)
June 16, Russia (Warsaw, 7.45pm)
1980 First round
2008 First round
Greece are 66/1 to win Euro 2012, and 250/1 to draw all 3 group games 0-0.
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FOURFOURTWO'S EURO 2012 PREVIEWS
Grp A: Poland Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Russia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Greece Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Czech Republic
Grp B: Netherlands Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Germany Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Portugal Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Denmark
Grp C: Spain Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Italy Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Croatia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Republic of Ireland
Grp D: Ukraine Ã¢ÂÂ¢ England Ã¢ÂÂ¢ France Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Sweden
...and there's more: try Back of the Net's satirical previews