Greece host Belgium in crucial qualifier for Russia 2018 (GRE-BEL Preview)
FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING - GROUP H (MATCHDAY 8)
|Greece||2:45 PM (EST)||Belgium|
Georgios Tsitsonis from AGONAsport.com brings you a full preview for Greece's all-important qualifier against Belgium.
Thursday’s 0-0 draw with Estonia may have left a bitter taste in the mouth of many Greek supporters, but for the Ethniki there is no time to let the disappointment fester. With Belgium coming to Greece for Sunday’s crucial World Cup qualifier, there is a genuine chance to make things right with a result against Roberto Martinez’s men.
Luckily for Greece, Cyprus pulled off a monumental comeback to defeat Bosnia 3-2 on Thursday. That allowed Greece to actually increase their lead over Bosnia to two points for second in the group. However, now Cyprus is also in the mix and the last three matches of Group H will surely have more dramatic twists.
Belgium now lead the group by six points, their 9-0 win over Gibraltar coupled with the other results in the section effectively ensuring the Red Devils will finish as the first placed team in Group H and earn an automatic ticket to next year’s World Cup.
Against Estonia, the Ethniki received all sorts of criticism for their lack of creativity and all-around sluggish performance. Michael Skibbe was not spared either as the national team busy was heavily criticized for the manner of the performance and his team selection.
Certainly the Estonia match was not the best tune-up as the team await rampant Belgium coming to town.
Greece’s injury problems persist ahead of the Belgium match. The big question is whether Kostas Mitroglou can overcome a preseason injury to feature in Sunday’s match. All signs indicate that won’t happen, however Skibbe is set on waiting until the last possible moment to make the call. Kyriakos Papadopoulos picked up a knee injury against Estonia and has been for the match against the Belgians. In his place, Panathinaikos’ Giorgos Koutroubis has been called into the side.
The good news comes in the form that Sokratis Papastathopoulos makes a return to the side after serving his suspension during the Estonia game.
Skibbe looks set to give Dimitris Diamantakos the nod up front in favor of Apostolos Vellios. That appears to be the thinking in the lead-up to Sunday’s match as the German hopes for more movement from his attacking players.
The main concern for Belgium has to do with the recuperation of Eden Hazard. The Chelsea star is coming off a long injury layoff and made his first appearance of the new season on Thursday versus Gibraltar. Hazard played 77 minutes and managed to get on the scoresheet. Martinez has indicated that he is unsure how Hazard will feel after that match stating that he remains unsure of whether Hazard will start.
Alex Witsel will not play on Sunday after picking up a red card in the Gibraltar match.
Greece: Karnezis, Tzavellas, Manolas, Papastathopoulos, Stafylidis, Zeca, Samaris, Donis, Fortounis, Mantalos, Diamantakos
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen; Meunier, E Hazard, Defour, De Bruyne, Carrasco, Mertens, R Lukaku
8/31/17 Greece-Estonia 0-0 (World Cup Qualifier)
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)
8/31/17 Belgium-Gibraltar 9-0 (World Cup Qualifier)
6/9/17 Estonia-Belgium 0-2 (World Cup Qualifier)
3/28/17 Russia-Belgium 3-3 (International Friendly)
3/25/17 Belgium-Greece 1-1 (World Cup Qualifier)
11/13/16 Belgium-Estonia 8-1 (World Cup Qualifier)
Greece and Belgium have met on eight occasions with the Greeks holding a 3-2 series lead along with three draws between the teams. Their last meeting was in a March qualifier in Belgium where Greece very nearly came away with the win only for the hosts to score a late equalizer through Romelu Lukaku.
Greece must up their game on many levels in order to have a chance against Belgium. The Ethniki looked a dispirited side against Estonia as well as a sluggish one that seemed to tire as the match wore on. Belgium will surely punish Greece if anything similar is shown on Sunday.
Belgium will clinch a spot with a win so it seems a bit far-fetched that some pundits believe they will be indifferent. Belgium’s immense quality means that Greece have to produce their display of the qualifiers if they are to have a chance at winning this match.
Defensively, the hosts need to play with huge spirit and aggressiveness. Winning the first and second balls will be a must against their opponents. But, Greece also have to come out of their shell as well. Being able to keep the ball and break up Belgium’s rhythm is key to obtaining a good result.
The Estonia match was a missed opportunity to stamp the team’s authority on 2nd place in the group. Now, Greece must secure perhaps the best result they’ve had in the last five years if they are to continue to hold World Cup destiny in their own hands.
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.