Ahead of Belgium, A Must-Win For The Ethniki
FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING - GROUP H (MATCHDAY 7)
|Greece||2:45 PM (EST)||Estonia|
Georgios Tsitsonis from AGONAsport.com brings you a full preview for Greece's all-important qualifier against Estonia.
With Belgium looming on the horizon, Greece prepare to take on Estonia on Thursday in a crucial qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. While the prospect of taking on powerhouse Belgium on Sunday is getting supporters excited, Michael Skibbe’s side would be wise not to overlook the Estonian side.
The Sinisärgid (Blue-shirts) are a team to be respected who are on a decent run at the moment. The appointment of former international Martin Reim, the all-time caps leader for Estonia, as head coach, has seen the team pick up some decent results in the last year. Most notable of which was certainly the 3-0 friendly victory over Croatia last March. In Group H of the European qualifiers, Estonia has still struggled despite Reim’s appointment. The team sit currently 5th on four points having won only one of their six qualifiers, a 4-0 victory over lowly Gibraltar. Estonia will likely sit back and defend as they look to exploit what they can through counter-attacks.
A focused Greece shouldn’t have a big problem against their visitors, though the Ethniki will still have fresh memories of defeats to the likes of the Faroe Islands and Luxembourg within the last two years. Estonia are at a higher level than those sides so there is some measure of caution necessary. This match has become a bit trickier of a proposition due to the many injuries facing Greece.
Still, a victory is what is expected and needed at this stage to keep the pressure on Belgium, who sit in 1st place in the group. The three points will also see Greece maintain their narrow one-point lead over Bosnia for 2nd place which will lead to a spot in the Play-offs in November.
Greece: Skibbe has all sorts of selection headaches heading into this qualifier. Sokratis Papastathopoulos is suspended, but the bigs news on the Greek front is the various injuries plaguing the squad.
Kostas Mitroglou has been in a race for fitness for these qualifiers after an injury sustained in Benfica’s preseason. He will miss the Estonia match for sure and is questionable for Belgium. His spot as the lone striker will likely be given to Apostolos Vellios. This past week more injuries have hit with Vasilis Torosidis and Dimitris Kourbelis being deemed unavailable to play the Estonians. Torosidis’ injury in particular offers a bit of a problem for Skibbe. Without another out and out right back in the squad, the likes of Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Giannis Maniatis, Kostas Stafylidis, and Panagiotis Retsos will contest for the right-back spot.
Stefanos Kapino has been bothered by a knee problem, which has led to Skibbe calling in a fourth goalkeeper in the form of Panetolikos’ Dimitris Kyriakidis.
Estonia: Estonia will also have absences for the match on Thursday night in Piraeus. Omitted from the matchday squad is the suspended duo of Artjom Dmitrijev and Karol Mets. Also out through injury is Konstantin ‘Kostja’ Vassiljev. This is a massive blow for Reim’s side as the Poland-based Vassiljev is an attacking midfielder that runs everything in the Estonian team. Fulham youngster, Matthias Kait is expected to try to fill his shoes having played well against Bosnia in June.
Striker Henri Anier is a doubt as a starter though he could come in as a substitute. That means in the team’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation the striker role will be played by Sergei Zenjov.
At the back, the central of defense will be marshalled by captain Ragnar Klavan. The Liverpool defender is suffering from a lack of match fitness at club level, however he is absolutely indispensable to Estonia. Klavan’s partner at the back will likely be Enar Jaager who has recently come back from injury.
Greece: Karnezis, Tzavellas, Papadopoulos, Manolas, Retsos, Samaris, Zeca, Donis, Fortounis, Mantalos, Vellios
Estonia: Aksalu, Kalaste, Klavan, Jaager, Teniste, Dmitrijev, Antonov, Luts, Kait, Purje, Zenj
6/9/17 Bosnia-Greece 0-0 (World Cup Qualifier)
3/25/17 Belgium-Greece 1-1 (World Cup Qualifier)
11/13/16 Greece-Bosnia 1-1 (World Cup Qualifier)
11/9/16 Greece-Belarus 0-1 (International Friendly)
10/10/16 Estonia-Greece 0-2 (World Cup Qualifier)
6/12/17 Latvia-Estonia 1-2 (International Friendly)
6/9/17 Estonia-Belgium 0-2 (World Cup Qualifier)
3/28/17 Estonia-Croatia 3-0 (International Friendly)
3/25/17 Cyprus-Estonia 0-0 (World Cup Qualifier)
11/22/17 Antigua and Barbuda-Estonia 0-1 (International Friendly)
Greece and Estonia have met on three occasions, once in a competitive match and twice in friendly fixtures. In December 1999, the teams drew 2-2 in Greece. Home advantage told in their second match two years later with Greece prevailing 4-2. The two teams played each other last October in this round of World Cup qualifying. Greece won 2-0 in Tallinn thanks to goals from Vasilis Torosidis and Kostas Stafylidis.
This is yet another test of Greece under Skibbe and a measure of the team’s progress since the horrendous EURO 2016 qualification campaign. Estonia are a limited side, but one with just enough quality to cause problems if a better side are not on their day.
Reim’s men took a point away to Cyprus in March, another piece of evidence that they can nick the odd point or two away from home.
Skibbe must show an ability to win matches like these, potential banana skins turned into routine successes. His predecessors, Otto Rehhagel and Fernando Santos, were very apt at beating smaller sides especially when the cards were down. Skibbe has to now do the same.
These sort of matches have historically been tougher for a team that is more adept at playing on the break than forcing the initiative. However, with a spot in Russia seemingly closer, Greece have to prove they belong back amongst the world’s best. Beating Estonia is then something they will be expected to do.
where to watch
Watch it live from AGONAsport here, available WORLDWIDE except in Greece and Cyprus! For those in Greece, the game will be on OTE Sport 1 and SKAI while ESPN3 will be showing it in the USA. For Canada, it will be on Sportsnet World Now and in Australia on WATCHESPN. Full TV listings can be found here.