A Closer Look At Greece’s Potential Playoff Opponents
Greece go into Tuesday’s European Playoffs draw for the 2018 World Cup as one of the four unseeded sides along with Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Sweden. Those four sides will be drawn against the four seeded teams which include Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, and Croatia. AGONAsport takes a closer look at Greece’s potential opponents with regard to their FIFA Ranking, path to the Playoffs, and what players to watch out for.
ITALY (FIFA RANKING: 17th)
Italy represent the biggest name in the Playoff draw. The Azzurri are four-time World Cup champions and one of the most successful national teams in world football. Gian Piero Ventura’s men finished 2nd in Group G, five points behind section winners Spain. Italy were neck and neck with the Spanish side until an early September defeat in Spain by 3-0. That was the Italians only loss of the campaign, they drew two matches, one against Spain at home and another against FYROM toward the end of the campaign.
It was a solid qualifying campaign for Italy, however nothing spectacular. That said, they still have quality in abundance and many will be expecting them to advance regardless of their opponents in November. The team’s main strength is in the defense which features veterans such as Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci.
Switzerland (FIFA RANKING: 7th)
The Swiss side are seeking to advance to their fourth consecutive World Cup finals. They were just beaten to the top spot in Group B by Portugal, losing a 2-0 decision to the Portuguese in Lisbon on the final Matchday. Up until then, Switzerland had been magnificent. Vladimir Petkovic’s team had won nine consecutive qualifiers and had notched up six shutouts while scoring 23 goals.
The Swiss are the top ranked team in the Playoffs at 7th in the FIFA Rankings. While they were disappointing against Portugal in the group decider, they are still a side to be reckoned with. There is the lack of a real star name, though the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, and Stephan Lichtsteiner have plenty of international pedigree.
Croatia (FIFA Ranking: 18th)
A 1-1 home draw against Finland in the penultimate round of qualification ruined Croatia’s hopes of a direct World Cup berth. That match was the last of head coach Ante Cacic after a two-year reign. Even on points then with the Ukraine, the Croatians had to go to Kiev to play a do-or-die final day qualifier against Andriy Shevchenko’s men. New manager Zlatko Dalic led his team to a superb 2-0 win clinching 2nd in Group I as Iceland took first place and booked their ticket to Russia.
Croatia have some of European football’s best individual talent. There is quality up and down the squad especially with the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, and Mario Mandzukic. The defense has shown signs of improvement as well having conceded a paltry four goals in the qualifying campaign.
Denmark (FIFA Ranking: 26th)
Denmark comes into the draw as the lowest ranked side of the seeded qualifiers. Age Hareide’s men bounced back to finish the qualifiers in impressive style after a couple early defeats to Poland and Montenegro in Group E. A 4-0 rout of Poland in September showed that this is a team that has potential and on their day is a match for many sides.
While the names on the team roster won’t elicit much fear, Denmark do possess a world-class midfielder in Christian Eriksen. The quality of the Tottenham star is central to the way Denmark play and Eriksen provides the the inspiration and creativity to an otherwise functional side. If Eriksen is in form then Denmark are simply an altogether different proposition.