Young Greeks within touching distance of U21 European Championship
EURO U-21 QUALIFICATION
|Croatia U21||19:00 (GR)||Greece U21|
The under 21 Greek national team are within touching distance of the 2019 UEFA European Championship, but before they can begin celebrating, a huge task awaits against nearest challengers Croatia. AGONAsport previews the battle.
So far, Greece U21 have enjoyed an impressive 2019 European Championship qualifying campaign, winning seven out of eight matches in Group 1 with only two games remaining. Boasting a three point lead over second placed Croatia, all the Greeks need is a point on Friday evening to practically guarantee their birth at the final tournament next year, however it promises to be a nervy occasion.
The only match in the group which Greece have failed to win so far was against the Croats in Thessaloniki. After 65 minutes of play at the Toumba Stadium, Giorgos Manthatis gifted the hosts an advantage, but a horrible goalkeeping error from substitute Eleftherios Astras allowed Josip Brekalo to pop up with an instant equaliser for Croatia.
Since that draw in Greece, the young Croatians lost to the Czech Republic on the road, but they managed to win all of their other matches to keep in touching distance of first position ahead of the decider with the Greeks in Pula. They’ve registered a large 25 points in just eight matches while only conceding five.
For their part, the Greeks have been unstoppable, beating Belarus, Moldova and the Czech Republic to occupy pole position in the race to earn direct qualification to the 2019 U21 European Championship in Italy. Initially, only the group winners qualify for the competition, but the eight best runners-up will then compete in playoffs against each other. After this match with Croatia, the team will finish the Group 1 campaign at home to eliminated Belarus in Peristeri.
TEAM NEWS: CROATIA U21
The one to watch surely has to be 22-year old AC Milan midfielder Alen Halilovic. Back in 2014, Barcelona came calling, signing the Croatian wonderkid from Dinamo Zagreb after he created headlines with his visible talent. Nevertheless, Halilovic never made an appearance for the Barcelona seniors, shifted out to Sporting Gijon on loan. He later represented Hamburg and Las Palmas before eventually moving to Milan in July 2018.
Forward Josip Brekalo is Croatia’s top scorer in qualifying with six goals to his name and he’ll lead the line in Pula.
Possible line-up: Posavec, Uremovic, Caleta-Car, Benkovic, Sosa, Vlasic, Basic, Sunjic, Halilovic, Brekalo, Jakolis.
TEAM NEWS: GREECE U21
Panathinaikos, who have started the Super League in brilliant fashion, had eight players summoned to the under 21 Greek national side by boss Antonis Nikopolidis. However, in bad news for Nikopolidis, leading figures Konstantinos Tsimikas (left-back) and Efthymis Koulouris (forward) were called up to the Ethniki Omada and it’s a decision which has been questioned by many.
Possible line-up: Kotsaris, Saliakis, Pasalidis, Nikolaou, Kyriakopoulos, Chatzidiakos, Karachilos, Androutsos, Lamprou, Limnios, Vergos.
HOW TO QUALIFY
Any Greece victory, or a high scoring draw with more than two goals (2:2, 3:3 e.t.c.), will formally qualify the team for the 2019 UEFA U21 European Championship. In the event that the match ends in a 0:0/1:1 tie, the Greeks will only require a point against Belarus at home in the concluding qualifying match to seal first place.
A Croatia win will bring the two teams level on 22 points, but because of the Croats’ superior head-to-head record, they will move into first spot with their last game in Group 1 against minnows San Marino.
by Shaun Nicolaides
Image Source: sport24.gr