Ethniki Look To Take Giant Step Toward Russia 2018
FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING - GROUP H (MATCHDAY 6)
|Bosnia-Herzegovina||2:45 PM (EST)||Greece|
Georgios Tsitsonis from AGONAsport.com brings you a full preview for Greece's all-important qualifier against Bosnia.
With only a year to go until the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Greece will aim on Friday to take their most decisive step yet to qualify for a third consecutive World Cup. The match against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica promises to include all that one expects from a qualifier of this importance. There will be tension and potentially high drama as a victory for either side will put them into the driver’s seat for at least 2nd place in Group H of the European Qualifiers for Russia 2018.
Greece go into the match on 11 points from 5 matches, one point ahead of Bosnia. With both teams still to play group favorites Belgium down the stretch, Friday’s qualifier between the two could end up playing a big role in which team goes through from this section.
This qualifying campaign for Greece has been in stark contrast to the nightmare of EURO 2016 qualifying. The Ethniki have rebounded strongly from that period. While they haven’t yet hit dizzying heights with their play, they have shown a real willingness to battle it out. This is a quality reminiscent of the good old days in the past decade plus where the team consistently punched above their weight on the international stage.
Friday’s clash with the Bosnians is yet another test for Michael Skibbe and his players. Bosnia will surely be looking for revenge after the ill-tempered November qualifier between the two sides that saw Greece equalize deep into injury-time thanks to Giorgos Tzavellas’ strike.
Whatever the result, it won’t clinch a top two spot for either side, but a lot is riding on the outcome of this meeting. Three points for one or the other will cause a shift, not only in the table, but also in the momentum heading into the final group matches this fall.
Essentially, Greece are playing for two results. A draw will see them hold court as they maintain their one point advantage over Bosnia. A victory for the Galanolefki would push them four points ahead with four games to play, a seemingly difficult lead to overtake. Defeat would not be disastrous for Greece, but Mehmed Bazdarevic’s side would go two points clear and would then have their qualifying destiny in their hands.
Bosnia: For Bosnia, the big loss is undoubtedly new Arsenal signing, Sead Kolasinac, who misses out due to suspension. Miralem Pjanic was a massive injury concern earlier in the week due to a knock picked up from the Champions’ League Final. However, Pjanic has come through training this week and should feature, though it remains to be seen if he will be 100%. Milan Djuric could not make the cut due to injury. Also, unable to feature for the home team are Danijel Milicevic and Rade Krunic, two more injured players for the Zmajevi.
Greece: Greece are without five national team regulars going into this match. Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Giorgos Tzavellas, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, and Andreas Samaris miss out through suspension. Nikos Karelis is still out due to his long-term injury. Skibbe has overseen nearly a week of training with very few problems. Carlos Zeca has shrugged off his recent injury and is available for selection. Marios Oikonomou underwent a bout of sickness on Wednesday, however he should be fit to play against Bosnia if called upon.
Bosnia: Begovic; Vranjes, Bicakcic, Cocalic, Zukanovic; Besic, Pjanic; Lulic, Visca; Dzeko, Ibisevic
Greece: Karnezis, Retsos, Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Torosidis, Zeca, Tziolis, Mantalos, Fortounis, Stafylidis, Mitroglou
3/28/17 Albania-Bosnia 1-2 (International Friendly)
3/25/17 Bosnia-Gibraltar 5-0 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
11/13/16 Greece-Bosnia 1-1 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
10/10/16 Bosnia-Cyprus 2-0 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
10/7/16 Belgium-Bosnia 4-0 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
3/25/17 Belgium-Greece 1-1 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
11/13/16 Greece-Bosnia 1-1 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
11/9/16 Greece-Belarus 0-1 (International Friendly)
10/10/16 Estonia-Greece 0-2 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
10/7/16 Greece-Cyprus 2-0 (2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)
Greece have faced Bosnia on eight occasions having beaten them four times and drawing three. The two teams last met in November of last year in a dramatic encounter that ended up as a 1-1 thanks to Tzavellas’ thunderbolt equalizer deep into injury time. The Bosnians’ lone victory was in March 2013 which saw them pick up a 3-1 win in Bosnia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The two teams are meeting again in their second consecutive World Cup Qualifying campaign. Bosnia topped the group ahead of Greece on goal difference in 2014 Qualifying.
More on the two teams' previous meetings can be found here.
There won’t be many referees around with more experience than the man in the middle on Friday night. Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli is widely considered to be one of world football’s top officials. Rizzoli officiated the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final in Brazil and has been named Italy’s top referee every year since 2011.
One piece of bad news for Greek fans is that Rizzoli took control of a game that is perhaps the national team’s worst-ever moment. He officiated the home defeat versus the Faroe Islands back in November 2014.
More on the referee can be found here.
The way the group is shaping up, this result could have massive bearing on 1st and 2nd place. Bosnia have their backs against the wall ever so slightly. Bazdarevic’s team know they must win if they are to control their destiny. Considering this, Bosnia will likely attack from the opening whistle. This potential tactic could work one of two ways, it could provide an early goal from which to build or it could play into the hands of Greece who have long preferred another side to take the initiative while they play on the counter-attack.
While some supporters may want Greece to force the issue more, that is unlikely to happen. The key for Greece is more than likely to take care of the ball. If the visitors can maintain possession that could break up any rhythm Bosnia try to create. Ceding the ball to such a talented attacking team like Bosnia constantly could easily spell disaster.
Not only is this match important for Greece as far as qualification for Russia 2018, it’s a true marker of where they are now. Have the team fully recovered from that spectacular loss of form before these qualifiers began? Is the confidence back? Can this team make their mark away from home against strong opposition? Many are inclined to answer yes to these questions, however in order to do so a result is needed in Zenica.
If Skibbe’s men can be resolute defensively, hold onto the ball, and not be overawed by what will certainly be a fanatic atmosphere, then a result is on the cards. Anything less will give Bosnia a golden opportunity to claim the points and jump above the Ethniki in the group. A win or draw for Greece would mean that the dream of a 3rd consecutive World Cup place is that much closer.
where to watch
Watch it live from AGONAsport here, available WORLDWIDE except in Greece! For those in Greece, the game will be on OTE Sport 1 and SKAI while Fox Soccer2 Go will be showing it in the USA. For Canada, it will be on Sportsnet World Now. Australia will not have TV coverage. Full TV listings can be found here.