Greece U21 making country proud in Euro qualifying
The under 21 Greek national team have provided the country with real hope for the future, starring in the 2019 European championship qualifying campaign.
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Despite the senior Ethniki Omada failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and putting in some tepid performances, the country’s U21 side are making Greek supporters proud. After seven matches in 2019 European championship qualification, Greece U21 occupy first position in Group 1 with an impressive 19 points. The Greeks have won a brilliant six out of seven fixtures, only drawing the one match with rivals Croatia in Thessaloniki. Croatia are in second place, three points behind Greece.
A big reason behind the success is head coach Antonis Nikopolidis. The 47-year old former goalkeeper, who is forever a national hero after he helped Greece win Euro 2004, has put together a seriously talented group which can compete with Europe’s best at junior level. Nikopolidis has picked players such as Konstantinos Galanopoulos, Konstantinos Tsimikas, Lazaros Lamprou and Efthymis Koulouris who are already key figures for their respective clubs, using their senior experience to good effect.
Like any successful Greek team, a watertight defence is the key to victory. Yes, Greece’s opponents in Group 1 may include San Marino, Moldova and Belarus, but only two goals conceded in seven fixtures is still an excellent showing. With the likes of Dimitris Nikolaou and Triantafyllos Pasalidis at the back, Greece have looked solid in defence and are difficult for any opponent to break down.
Greeks aren’t famed for their scoring prowess on the international stage, but the under 21’s are breaking that stereotype with 22 goals in seven qualifying matches. PAOK’s Koulouris is the top scorer with five markers from six appearances, even if he did miss a penalty in the recent 3:0 thrashing of the Czech Republic in Xanthi.
Thanasis Androutsos has also been among the goals, grabbing four for himself in the qualifying stages. Overall, Greece U21 are second in the goalscoring ranks in the qualifiers, trailing leaders Germany by just the one goal.
CHANCES WITH SENIOR TEAMS
As already mentioned, plenty of Greece U21’s players are gifted with opportunities for their senior clubs on a regular basis. For example, Willem II left-back Tsimikas, incidentally on loan from Olympiacos, has transformed himself into one of the Eredivisie’s best defenders this season, even popping up with the odd goal at the other end.
Let’s take a look at the team which played against the Czech Republic in late March and see how many appearances they’ve made this season:
Konstantinos Kotsaris: Returned from Omonia Nicosia last summer, but is yet to make a Super League appearance with Panathinaikos.
Manolis Saliakas: On loan at Kissamikos Chania from Olympiacos, he’s competed in 16 Football League matches this season and picked up a superb return of four goals.
Triantafyllos Pasalidis: During the current campaign, the 21-year old centre back has scored two goals in 24 Super League matches with Asteras Tripolis. Will join Olympiacos in the summer for 450 thousand euros.
Dimitris Nikolaou: Notably scored against Barcelona in this year’s UEFA Champions League. In all competitions, Nikolaou has played in 16 matches this season.
Konstantinos Tsimikas: One of the Eredivisie’s revelations of the season. Tsimikas has made himself Willem II starting left-back and played in 28 league matches. So far, he boasts two Eredivisie goals and three assists.
Konstantinos Galanopoulos: This season, AEK Athens’ young midfield star has played in 32 matches, including ten European games. Possesses real talent.
Zisis Karachalios: He’s struggled to get into the Levadiakos team this year, only playing in six Super League matches with a minutes total of 116.
Giorgos Manthatis: The PAS Giannina man, another on loan from Piraeus club Olympiacos, has made two assists in 24 Super League games. Important player for PAS.
Thanasis Androutsos: Right now, he’s only played in seven Super League fixtures this season for Olympiacos, but is expected to participate in more games before the campaign ends.
Dimitris Limnios: Gradually progressed to the PAOK first team, competing in 17 league games. Scored and contributed with two assists in the Greek Cup.
Efthymis Koulouris: In 12 Super League fixtures, the 22-year old PAOK striker has registered two goals.
Pantelis Hatzidiakos: Plying his trade with AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, the central defender has played in 22 Eredivisie matches. Scored one goal and taken one assist.
Nikos Vergos: In the first half of the season, he played in six matches with Vasas FC in Hungary. The striker returned to parent club Olympiacos in January.
Anastasios Chatzigiovannis: The midfielder made one assist in 15 Super League games with struggling Athenian giants Panathinaikos.
Incredibly, Greece U21 haven’t qualified for the final tournament of the European championships since 2002, but there is a strong possibility that the young Greeks will finally return to the competition again.
In order to qualify for the 2019 European championships in Italy, teams must finish in first place. The four best group runners-up participate in qualification playoffs. At this moment in time, Greece U21 hold a slender three-point advantage in first position of Group 1, but away matches against challengers Croatia and the Czech Republic are coming up. The qualifiers end in October 2018.
Current Group 1 standings:
Greece, 19 points (7 games)
Croatia, 16 points (7 games)
Belarus, 10 points (6 games)
Czech Republic, 10 points (6 games)
Moldova, 3 points (7 games)
San Marino, 0 points (7 games)
Greece U21’s remaining fixtures:
Czech Republic (A), September 10;
Croatia (A), October 12;
Belarus (H), October 15.