Only a Win Will Do For The Ethniki In Crucial Qualifier (CYP-GRE Preview)
FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING - GROUP H (MATCHDAY 9)
|Cyprus||2:45 PM (EST)||Greece|
Georgios Tsitsonis from AGONAsport.com brings you a full preview for Greece's all-important qualifier against Cyprus.
Greece must win in order to keep their World Cup hopes alive when they face off against neighbors Cyprus on Saturday. Many Greek supporters will have one eye on the match between Bosnia and Belgium in Group H, knowing full well that Greece’s hopes for a playoff spot hinge on Belgium picking up a result in Sarajevo.
However, Michael Skibbe’s side would do well to stay focused on defeating Cyprus as the Cypriots are an altogether different proposition on their home pitch. Evidence of this was the late August comeback win against Bosnia, where even though they were 2-0 down at the half, Cyprus stormed back to defeat the Bosnians 3-2 in a shock result.
Greece were unable to take advantage of that gift of a result and have gone winless in their last five qualifiers including a disappointing draw at home to Estonia and a home defeat to Belgium in their last two outings. That has put the national side into a position where they need outside help in order to finish second in the group and have a shot at a playoff spot for Russia 2018.
Cyprus manager Ran Ben Shimon and his players will be thinking of what might have been. The Bosnia win put Cyprus into a position where they had genuine playoff hopes heading into the last three matches. However, an away defeat to Estonia a few days later eliminated the side from contention. Despite not having anything to play for, but pride and amassing as many points as possible, Cypriot players have been adamant they will be giving everything for the win on Saturday.
Ben Shimon has had to deal with a few injury concerns in the lead-up to this match. One big absence is that of Omonoia attacker Demetris Christofi. A recent injury in a league match means that the 29-year-old will misses out on this qualifier. APOEL’s George Efraim is unavailable while Konstantinos Mintikkis was left out of the squad, due to injury as well. Mintikkis was replaced by Marios Stylianou, a likely back-up to first-choice right-back Jason Demetriou.
Skibbe will be ecstatic to have seen Kostas Mitroglou training with the rest of the squad this week. The Marseille striker suffered a preseason knock that saw him miss Greece’s previous two qualifiers. However, there was bad news on Thursday as it was confirmed that Tasos Donis will miss Greece’s remaining two qualifiers due to injury. That will be a big blow to Greece as Donis has been amongst the team’s top performers in recent matches.
Dimitris Diamantakos was injured after the squad announcement and his place was taken by Nottingham Forest striker Apostolos Vellios.
Cyprus: Panagi, Demetriou, Laifis, Katelaris, Margaca, Laban, Artymatas, Charalambides, Kyriakou, Alexandrou, Sotiriou
Greece: Karnezis, Tzavellas, Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Torosidis, Maniatis, Zeca, Fortounis, Christodoulopoulos, Mantalos, Mitroglou
9/3/17 Estonia-Cyprus 1-0 (World Cup Qualifier)
8/31/17 Cyprus-Bosnia 3-2 (World Cup Qualifier)
6/9/17 Gibraltar-Cyprus 1-2 (World Cup Qualifier)
3/25/17 Cyprus-Estonia 0-0 (World Cup Qualifier)
11/16/16 Cyprus-Gibraltar 3-1 (World Cup Qualifier)
9/3/17 Greece-Belgium 1-2 (World Cup Qualifier)
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)
Greece and Cyprus have played each other 26 times with Greece having won on seventeen occasions. Cyprus have only been victorious three times with seven matches ended in draws. The last meeting between the two was in last October as Greece won at home 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier.
This will be a tricky match for Greece no doubt. Away to Cyprus is always a tough fixture for any team. And so it will be for Greece especially with the additional pressure of knowing they have to win the match in order to stay alive.
Skibbe has been criticized for his team selection in recent matches. This would appear to be a natural occurrence due to recent results, in particular the draw against Estonia. Winless in their last five qualifiers, is the Ethniki in a slump? It could be argued yes, even if four of those five matches came against Bosnia and Belgium.
Despite the brotherly relationship between the two countries, it would be foolhardy to suggest Cyprus won’t do their best to win the game. Greece will have their hands full, but a win on Saturday would prove vital and combined with a Belgium result against Bosnia could still leave Greece on the threshold of clinching 2nd place and a spot in the World Cup Playoffs.
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.