Time For The New Generation
AGONAsport’s Nick Tsambouniaris discusses the opportunities that the “new generation” deserve with the Ethniki’s senior team.
These last two friendlies against Switzerland and Egypt respectively were the first time we had the opportunity to see a supposed “new look” Ethniki Omada outfit under Michael Skibbe, fresh from earning a new contract extension himself. So what worked well in these two friendlies, what did we learn and what can be done moving forward?
The first match at OAKA against the Swiss ended in a 1-0 defeat and it was a major disappointment as Greece failed to register a single shot on target in front of an empty crowd. The only positive was the new kit the players wore, it was that much of a letdown.
In that game, we saw the tried and tested players such as Karnezis, Torosidis, Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Samaris, Fortounis and Mitroglou. Some of these players are still a vital part of the team but others are beyond their best or simply well and truly out of form. Movement in the final third was practically nonexistent, the transition from defence to attack was too slow and even the backline made a few uncharacteristic mistakes.
This was in stark contrast to the next friendly against an admittedly poor Egyptian side in Zurich missing star player Mohamed Salah. The lineup of the team played a significant role in this. Instead of the aging Torosidis, we saw Bakakis start at right back and he popped up with an outstanding assist for Karelis to head home. Karelis himself replaced Mitroglou and he provided more running a bigger presence in front of goal. Another that caught the eye was Pelkas. The dynamic attacking midfielder was energetic throughout and a joy to watch as opposed to an out of sorts Fortounis.
The attacking quartet in this game all brought pace and energy, and had a point to prove as they try to lock down a regular spot in the team. The key from here will hopefully be picking players on form rather than reputation.
A core group from the strong U19 Euro 2012 team that made the final are ready to take their chance. Kourbelis and Gianniotas were late subs against Egypt and both are former members of that side. These players are approaching their best years and the time has come for them to become first team regulars. Kourbelis has shown great leadership qualities this season at Panathinaikos and has attracted interest from several European clubs. Hopefully he will get the nod over Tziolis, Samaris and Tachtsidis moving forward for the Nations League and Euro 2020 qualifiers. Gianniotas is an out and out winger and brings what is sorely lacked - pace. This in turn will bring more unpredictability to our attacking build ups.
Furthermore, there are also numerous others who were apart of that U19 team that lost the Euro 2012 final to Spain that are close to breaking into the team. Stafylidis, who had a stunning strike disallowed in Zurich, is one. His best performances at international level have come in his customary left back position, as opposed to further up the pitch where Skibbe has tended to play him. Cagliari left back, Lykogiannis, provides great competition in the role. He was also part of the aforementioned U19 side.
Another member of the team, Bakasetas, is no longer a rookie but is another who needs to play in his preferred central position to thrive, not out wide. Diamantakos was the leading striker in that U19 team, however it has not worked out at senior level so far. He has time on his side but needs to do well at club level first and foremost. Bouchalakis started this season strongly at Nottingham Forest but has since dropped off, however, he can count himself unlucky not to see more game time in the World Cup 2018 qualifiers. Hopefully Skibbe has him ahead of veterans such as Tziolis in the pecking order.
Kapino and Dioudis were the two goalkeepers of the U19 Euro 2012 squad. The former struggled at Olympiakos but produced an outstanding performance in the away game in Belgium last year. The latter actually played in the final in 2012. However, both are well off the pace in terms of a call up. Gianniotis, Barkas and Paschalakis are arguably more deserving. Karnezis has had his time and in line with rewarding form, one of the aforementioned three should become first choice.
Centre back is still the strongest position for the Ethniki with Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Papadopoulos and Retsos all providing great qualities. The centre backs of that U19 team, Triantafyllopoulos and Bougaidis, have basically gone off the radar in terms of National Team call ups.
At the moment, our U21 team is topping their Euro qualifying group and is brimming with talent. Later down the track, Manthatis, Chatzigiovannis, Androutsos, Koulouris, Limnios, Lamprou and Mavropanos have the ability to compliment the likes of Kourbelis, Gianniotas and members of the U19 Euro 2012 team who will be more established. However, to get to this stage, Skibbe needs to start selecting players on merit, rather than reputation.