Greece U21s success starts at the club level
The Greek U21 National Team has gotten off to a great start in UEFA EURO 2019 qualifying, having won their first four qualifiers as they sit atop their group. One key reason for their success is the ample amount of playing time these youngsters have received with their respective clubs.
Antonis Nikopolidis’ youth squad has been dominant in UEFA EURO 2019 qualifying sitting first in their respective group with four wins from four matches. Their most recent success was a 0-5 thrashing of San Marino on Tuesday. Their great start to the qualifying campaign has set the stage and hope for a place in the Final tournament in 2019.
There is no doubt that Greece’s U21 squads have consistently housed great talent in the past, however over the years, fans have seen generations full of potential gone to waste. The key culprit has been the failure of these players to earn playing time with their respective clubs and as a result, their first official match of the season was with the U21 National Team in October or even November.
However, this year’s U21 squad is quite different than years past. Despite their young age, a few of these players have starred with their respective clubs and have solidified a place in their club’s starting XI. Others, however, await their chance to shine at the club level, but their potential has not gone without notice.
Below looks at the players that were called-up for Greece’s recent qualifiers
Kotsaris and Astras are both talented, young goalkeepers and are patiently awaiting their chance to show their talent at Panathinaikos and Panionios, respectively. Panionios’ Astras has already made three appearances with the club and has performed well, not letting an opportunity to prove his worth go to waste, after both Kotnik and Bandis were sidelined due to injuries.
Katranis made a summer move from Atromitos to Saint-Etienne in a deal that closed at €800,000. The youngster was a consistent starter with the Peristeri club last season and awaits patiently in France for a chance to exemplify his great potential. Tsimikas, who plays in Holland with Willem, is a consistent starter with the club having already scored 2 goals in 8 appearances. Like Tsimikas, Asteras Tripolis’ Pasalidis and PAS Gianinnas’ Mavropanos have made seven appearances with their clubs having each scored once this season.
Nikolaou has made four appearances with Olympiacos including one against Italian champions Juventus in the Champions League, where he put on a stellar display while both Deligiannidis (PAOK) and Evaggelou (Panathinaikos) have made one appearance this season in Greece. Saliakas, who playing on loan from Olympiacos at Kissamikos, is expected to be a starter for the Football League side when the season kicks off in the coming weeks.
The key player in the U21’s midfield is AEK man Kostas Galanopoulos. The youngster has had a great season with the Enosis, having already made 8 appearances in Greece and Europe, and his call-up to the Men’s team could come sooner rather than later. Karachalios, whenever given the chance, is among Levadiakos’ distinguished players, while Androutsos and Orfanidis count 5 and 3 appearances with Olympiacos and Xanthi, respectively. A reminder, Androutsos has already been called up to the Men’s team in the past by coach Michael Skibbe.
Lambrou has played a key role in Panionios’ great start to the season having already scored three goals in 11 appearances and is a regular in the Kyanerythri’s starting lineup. Chatzigiovannis (7 appearances) and Manthatis (5 appearances) are gradually earning more playing time at Panathinaikos and PAS Giannina, respectively, while Melikiotis has made three appearances with Kerkyra .
PAOK man, Koulouris, is Greece’s top scorer with 5 goals in 4 qualifying matches and sees regular playing time at the club level (5 appearances), but has yet to find the back of the next for the Thessalonikis this season.
If the players listed above continue to earn playing time with their respective clubs and continue to dominate at the U21 level, their call up to the Men’s team could come sooner rather than later (like Donis and Retsos). The Men’s national team can only benefit from these youngsters as they provide additional options for coach Michael Skibbe, but as a whole, Greek football will come out a winner from keeping these youngster active and not letting their talent go to waste. To note, the above list does not include two youngsters that played on the U21 squad, but have now have solidified their place in Greece’s men’s squad, Tasos Donis and Panagiotis Retsos.