Anastasiadis aiming to stop flying Finns on debut
In the penultimate UEFA Nations League match, Greece host Finland at the Olympic Stadium, hoping to keep faint promotion hopes alive. AGONAsport previews the battle.
Placed in Group 2 of League C, Greece made a strong start to the inaugural Nations League campaign, defeating Estonia 1:0 in Tallinn. However, since then, things have turned rather sour. The Ethniki Omada lost 1:2 in Budapest, and despite gaining revenge over the Hungarians 1:0 in Athens, the performance was thoroughly disappointing and left supporters fuming. Subsequently, the Greeks fell 0:2 to Finland in Tampere, a miserable defeat which cost Michael Skibbe his job as head coach. 65-year old Angelos Anastasiadis was employed as the new Ethniki boss and has vowed to reinstate national pride among the seemingly unmotivated, disinterested group of players.
It’s been a completely different story for the flying Finns. Playing without the burden of expectation, Finland have taken Group 2 by storm, winning all four matches and not conceding a single goal along the way. Buoyed by prolific Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki, who’s registered three of the five Finnish goals, they’ve been deadly when presented with opportunities and watertight at the back. Finland require just one point from the final two matches (Greece away, Hungary away) to clinch promotion to League B.
At home, Finland proved too strong for Greece, claiming a 2:0 victory. After a goalless first half, Pyry Soiri pounced on a defensive error to beat Greek goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas, before Glen Kamara finished at point blank range in the closing stages. The Ethniki managed a mere one shot on target in that game and will be looking to make a major improvement at the OAKA.
At the moment, Greece have a negative goal difference of -1 (3-4) in the group, while Finland stand at +5 (5-0). The Greeks have to win to maintain any hope of somehow overtaking the Finns, but given the 0:2 loss against these opponents on the road, the Ethniki need to beat the visitors by more than two clear goals to possess a better head-to-head record. If Finland score in Athens, then Greece would have to emerge victorious by a difference of three goals.
TEAM NEWS: GREECE
For the first time since receiving clearance from FIFA, Stuttgart born goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos is in the Greek squad, and the talented Benfica man is the favourite to start between the pipes in this match. The 24-year old has starred in Portugal after moving from Panathinaikos, and taking into account his superb showings with Benfica, he should be given the nod.
To the relief of many Greek fans, veterans such as Orestis Karnezis, Georgios Tzavellas and Alexandros Tziolis were not selected by Anastasiadis. Olympiacos left-back Leonardo Koutris could be handed his debut and it will be interesting to see if Anastasiadis goes with Konstantinos Mitroglou as the main striker. In France, Mitroglou has been out of favour with Marseille, but he is the biggest attacking threat which Greece carry. Super League top scorer Efthymis Koulouris is his rival.
Possible line-up: Vlachodimos, Torosidis, Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Giannoulis, Zeca, Kourbelis, Pelkas, Fortounis, Bakasetas, Mitroglou.
TEAM NEWS: FINLAND
In Tampere, star striker Pukki was substituted after 11 minutes with an injury, but he’s back at full fitness again and will start at the OAKA searching for his fourth Nations League goal. Overall, Finnish boss Markku Kanerva has a full strength squad at his disposal, meaning he will be confident of achieving the required result in the Greek capital to guarantee top spot in Group 2.
Ahead of the upcoming match, former Panathinaikos midfielder Robin Lod shared his emotions from returning to Greece: “I have good memories from life in Greece, I played here for three years. Seeing the sun always brings a smile to the lips. At the OAKA, we lost to AEK sometimes, but we also won one of the derbies in the 90th minute. It’s important for us to begin the game calmly.”
Possible line-up: Hradecky, Arajuuri, Toivio, Uronen, Raitala, Kamara, Sparv, Lod, Soiri, Tuominen, Pukki.
REFEREE: LUCA BANTI (ITA)
44-year old Luca Banti will be the man in the middle. This season, the Italian has already refereed a competitive European match with Greek involvement, overseeing AEK’s 1:1 draw at Celtic in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round in August. In that game, he brandished a red card in the direction of young AEK midfielder Konstantinos Galanopoulos. Banti was the fourth official when Greece lost 1:4 to Croatia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification playoff.
In the past, Banti has been the referee for continental games with the participation of PAOK, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. In the 2018/2019 campaign, he was in charge of the Russia - Sweden (0:0) match in the Nations League, also refereeing the Spartak Trnava - NK Olimpija (1:1) and FC Copenhagen - Slavia Prague (0:1) games in the UEFA Europa League.
Referee: Luca Banti (ITA)
Assistant referees: Mauro Tonolini (ITA), Albert Tegoni (ITA)
Additional assistant referees: Paolo Valeri (ITA), Michael Fabri (ITA)
Fourth official: Alessandro Lo Cicero (ITA)