EPO Fail Ethniki at Time of Need
by Greg Gavalas
AGONAsport’s Ethniki contributor, Greg Gavalas, talks about the Hellenic Football Federation’s failure to help the Ethniki in a time of great need.
It's been a very turbulent and unsteady time for the Ethniki since the end of the 2014 World Cup. Results have not come in kind and the actual performance of the team has been ordinary at best, with very little to cheer about and plenty to lament about.
Coach Michael Skibbe has been credited by some for getting the team to have a "team feel" again, but I find very little substance in that when Greece are playing the way they are. At the moment, all I can see is something similar to a flat tire and flat progress, despite the potential that remains for a much healthier Ethniki and outlook.
With just a few days before the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia, the world has had friendly international matches happening around the clock as teams look to get their preparations on track. It has been a great opportunity for those that did not qualify for the tournament to fine tune and try things out before the UEFA League of Nations kicks off in September, UEFA’s newest competition, which will set up an additional route for nations to qualify for UEFA Euro 2020 (via a playoff).
The opportunity to lay some better foundations, test player dedication, and experiment with formations and starting lineups has been completely lost by the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO). Not to mention, in the few friendlies Greece played, we saw only a small glimpse of what can be.
One thing I have never been too critical about with EPO in the past, is the number of friendlies set up. From 2006 to 2016, Greece were averaging 5 friendlies a year while in 2016, the Ethniki played 6. The most friendlies during that time period was in 2006 and 2008 with 7 friendlies played.
From 2017 to now, the national team has played a total of 3 games, just 50% of what was played in all of 2016. EPO president, Evangelos Grammenos, has been a massive disappointment on so many scales. Not only with the domestic situation and the drama there, which did not impress FIFA and put Greece at risk of a footballing Grexit, but his handling of the Ethniki has been the poorest I have experienced in my years.
What stands out with Grammenos is the complete lack of football pedigree and lack of initiative, we have seen nothing, locally and internationally.
Greece’s record with Skibbe today is at a 40% win rate. The friendly wins in 2016 against Holland and Australia are perhaps the highlights and a 1-1 away draw with Belgium in World Cup qualifying the other. Besides this, the Ethniki has not defeated anyone of any great note in recent times. Egypt, who will be playing in the World Cup, would be the highest rank at 45 in the world, one behind Greece.
In the 3 friendlies Greece played this year, not much was learned as Tasos Bakasetas played on the wing, Vasilis Torosidis at right back against Switzerland (which saw a lackluster performance in Athens and a 1-0 loss), and Andreas Samaris again disappointed in midfield.
In the game with Egypt, Greece finally saw something everyone wanted to see: Michalis Bakakis at right-back and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos on the wing. This combination combined for the winning goal.
For all that good seen in the last two friendlies (Egypt and Saudi Arabia), both games featured a midfield combination of Alexandros Tziolis and Panagiotis Tachtsidis... a very slow midfield combination as an out of form Tachtsidis was out shone by Tziolis in both games, to put things into perspective.
No surprise, Greece created just two chances in the Saudi Arabia game which featured many AEK and PAOK players, who had played 2 days earlier in the intense Greek Cup final.
Disappointingly, Greece do not have any more friendlies set up in this time. The friendly versus Iran was called off for various reasons, but with many teams looking for friendlies in time for football’s biggest stage, and given the position the Ethniki and Skibbe are in, I ask why were there not more games setup.
On the field, the team does not look great with a very questionable holding midfield and the “better” players, especially out wide, have had such little time there (players being played out of position).
The Ethniki will go into the UEFA Nations League against Estonia and Hungary in two tricky away fixtures. I have a feeling Tziolis will lead Greece out again (Greece have an under 30% winning record with Tziolis) and I dare say, see central players out wide, which by now is something that we should not be witnessing.
The group Greece will be looking to top in the UEFA Nations League consists of Hungary, Finland, and Estonia. Our national team has faced all these teams in recent years in World Cup/Euro qualifying. Greece have a draw and a win against Hungary (0:0, 4:3), a draw and loss against Finland (1:1, 0:1), and finally a win and draw with Estonia (0:2, 0:0). All in all a 2-3-1 record. It is a close record and fans will have a first hand showing to see if any progress was made under Skibbe during the Nations League.
One thing is for sure, if no improvement or progress is shown in the UEFA nations League, Greece need to move away from a coach and captain that bring a 30-35% winning ratio to the team. Also, the team does not need president Grammenos to write himself off. Alternatively, it is a chance to make things right with better player selections and better tactics that can bring some much needed goals and help to our FIFA rankings as the “Piratiko” look to qualify for the next major competition, Euro 2020.