‘I’ll stay on as Greece coach’, says Skibbe
Greece boss Michael Skibbe pledged to continue in his role on Sunday after watching his team miss out on a place in the World Cup after falling to a 4-1 aggregate against Croatia in the playoffs.
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The Greeks gave a much-improved account of themselves in earning a goalless draw in the second leg of the tie at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Athens.
But having done the hard work three days ago by winning 4-1 in the first leg in Zagreb, Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia team finished the job with the minimum of fuss.
Despite the deflation of missing out on soccer’s showpiece next summer, Greece’s improved display and general performance over the entire qualification campaign has given their German coach hope and reason to stick around.
“This is a sad day for us and of course it’s difficult, because we have missed out on the World Cup, but I will stay on here,” Skibbe told the Skai TV cameras afterwards.
He added: “I'm very happy with the team's progress over the last 14 months. We have played really well overall in 12 matches, unfortunately we had a real below-par performance in Zagreb and we have paid dearly for that.”
Skibbe pointed to bad luck with injuries to skipper Vasilis Torosidis, Petros Mantalos and Christos Donis, as well as the controversial suspension of Kostas Manolas for the crucial first leg of the playoff , essentially stripping Greece of four of their top players.
“We showed that we were very competitive during the qualifiers, but in the first match with Croatia we were unlucky with the punishment of Manolas, and the with injuries to Torosidis, Mantalos and Donis were equally a knockout,” he said. “These absences influenced the chemistry of the team, we should not forget that.”
“Tonight we were excellent and Croatia were average. As I said, we have paid for the mistakes we made in Zagreb, mistakes which you simply can’t make at this level. We are a very united team though, and we’ll go forward from here.”
No team has overturned a 4-1 first-leg deficit in a World Cup play-off, and that record was never in danger tonight, and the Croatians have now not lost a major tournament play-off match on any of their five occasions.
There were some flashes of danger Greece, but despite having more possession, chances were few and far between and they failed to test Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subašić until the 87th minute with Panagiotis Tachtsidis having his shot saved.
Skibbe shuffled his pack considerably, making six changes after their poor performance in the first leg - three of those changes came in defence with Giannis Maniatis, Giorgos Tzavellas, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos replaced by fit-again captain Vasilis Torosidis, Kostas Manolas and Panagiotis Retsos.
The changes, coupled with a vociferous home crowd, seemed to work as the hosts looked more competitive all over the park, tenacious in the tackle and chasing every lost cause.
Chances were at a premium, though, with a bouncing low shot on the edge of the area from Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ flashing past the post the best on offer.
And for all Greece’s enthusiastic and energetic play, Croatia always looked threatening when they managed to ge forward, with Ivan Perišić, Nikola Kalinić and Mario Mandžukić all causing problems with their movement and slick passing.
And it was Inter Milan midfielder Perišić who came closest to a goal when his goalbound piledriver cannoned off Orestis Karnezis’ left post with the Greek keeper well beaten just before half-time.
Greece continued to try and chip away at Croatia but apart from Tachtsidis’ shot, the visitors held on comfortably to ease through.