Gutsy Performance from the Ethniki
by Greg Gavalas
Greg Gavalas from AGONAsport.com talks about Greece’s result against Bosnia in Zenica.
Greece came away with a well earned point in Zenica against Bosnia who were looking to get the three points and jump the Ethniki into second place in the group. Truth be told, we could have come away with a win had Petros Mantalos finished his chance in the 82nd minute. I think it would have also been one of the slickest goals from the Ethniki in open play, but let's rewind a little.
Michael Skibbe went with a traditional back four of Vasilis Torosidis, Kostas Manolas, Socrates Papastathopoulos and Kostas Stafylidis.
I was glad to see Stafylidis in defense and not the midfield but in left midfield was Anastasios Bakasetas, a baffling decision from Skibbe, as Bakasetas is no left winger.
In center midfield we had Carlos Zeca and Alexandros Tziolis with Mantalos on the right and Kostas Fortounis in central attack behind Kostas Mitroglou.
It was a slow start to the match, the Ethniki really controlled the pace through most of the match and only in spurts did we see flowing football.
I was surprised with Bosnia, they were nowhere near as slick and dominating as they were in the first match and Greece was definitely up for the fight.
Bosnia had a couple of decent scoring chances in the first half but Orestis Karnezis was up to the task. I think Karnezis had one of his best matches for the Ethniki in many years and made a couple of other key saves in the second half.
Greece struggled to put too much pressure on the Bosnian defense in the first half. The right hand side of Torosidis and Mantalos tried with some combos but the left hand side with Bakasetas did not get much going. I have to give credit to Torosidis, a better match from him overall compared to recent performances at both the club and national team level.
Mantalos had a disappointing match overall, his touches in the first half were very poor, costing us possession a few times which is unlike him. He did hustle in defense, although I still think this highlights a limitation Skibbe puts on the team as he continuous to play central players on the wings and whilst Mantalos was poor, he got involved and look to make something happen. On the opposite side, Bakasetas didn't really get into the game and combos between he and Stafylidis were limited.
My personal MVP from this match was Carlos Zeca. The midfielder from Panathinaikos did not stop running all game, was very smart in his challenges and gave the Bosnians nothing. Fair to say he has certainly cemented a spot in the 11 going forward.
Tziolis actually started the match well. Tziolis is Tziolis, nothing special, distributed well and with his height won some key headers. His passing did start to suffer as the game went on and we saw some giveaways that could have cost us. He did try very hard all game, I give him that, and made some key defensive plays towards the end. Would still love to see a Manolis Siopis or Dimitris Kourbelis get a run in this spot but also keen to see how a Zeca – Andreas Samaris combination will go here.
Fortounis tried, but overall I give him a "metrio" rating. He never got any quality passes into Mitroglou but at the same time, when you don't have proper attacking wingers playing, it makes it hard with one target man who is always covered by defenders like Mitroglou was.
So that brings me to me key point...
Early in the second half, Bakasetas twisted his ankle and could not continue, Skibbe gave Anastasios Donis his first cap and the young lad took it!
In half an hour window I thought Donis offered more than what Bakasetas has offered in 7 caps for Greece, this is because Donis is a dynamic two footed attacker. He took on players and made the Bosnians' nervous, we need more of this in the national team.
With this, Greece had two chances to win the match, first in the 75th minute, a cross from Mitroglou saw Fortounis fall just short as he dove to kick it in. I feel he should have looked for a diving header but the angle was not great so it is hard to say.
The big moment though came in the 82nd minute where a very slick attacking move involving Mitroglou and Donis, had the latter serve the ball on a plate for Mantalos who only had the goalkeeper to beat but to everyone's despair, the AEK midfielder didn't get over the ball enough and placed the shot off target.
Bosnia had a big chance to take the win at the end with a close range header from Bicakcic but Karnezis produced a great diving save and the game would end 0-0.
It was a better performance from Greece, unlike the Belgium game we held the ball for decent periods, possession was close and had we been on target with our shots we could have won the game (we had 6 shots, none made the target).
Big talking points -
Karnezis – Was sensational in goal and produced some key saves to keep Bosnia at bay.
Zeca – Made a big difference in the midfield, defensively didn't allow his marker to get forward, ran all game and held possession with good passes to open attacking outlets.
Donis – Played for half an hour and showed what can happen when you play the right type of player on the wing, but can also take players on and go forward. We created two near game winners as a result of this.
Our next match is on the 31st of August at home to Estonia, this is a must win game. The match to follow vs Belgium will tell a bigger story on what is to come for the first 3 spots in this group. Whilst we have the edge over Bosnia for now, there are still key games to come and neither Bosnia nor Greece can afford an unexpected draw or loss.
I want to see us get the 3 points vs Estonia and then bring on Belgium.
I would hope Skibbe saw what many saw in this match vs Bosnia... play wingers in wide positions, picture Donis and Gianniotas on either wing feeding Mitroglou and Fortounis or Mantalos as the attacking midfielders.
Also, I would love to see a Zeca-Samaris combo in midfield. Samaris needs to perform as there is decent competition in that spot now. Panagiotis Tachtsidis would also be another great addition to the mix so interesting times ahead, one we have not been in for some time.