Anastasiadis raises eyebrows

Anastasiadis raises eyebrows

AGONAsport’s Ethniki contributor, Greg Gavalas, analyzes Angelos Anastasiadis’ callups ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Bosnia.

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The new chapter of the Greek National Team starts this weekend as the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers kick off this weekend. We look to the Ethniki to come out successfully from Group J and qualify for a major tournament for the first time since the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

If there is one thing certain, it won’t be easy. The Ethniki has gone through some troublesome and worrisome times since 2014 with no major victories, a disastrous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, and a respectable 2018 World Cup qualifying display that was sadly squashed by eventual finalists Croatia (due to disastrous first leg in the playoffs).

The Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) had an opportunity to start over in the new UEFA Nations League and part ways with German coach Michael Skibbe, who I screamed to be removed for sometime, however he remained at the helm and unfortunately proved me right in all areas. The Nations League, which had promise for a great test for the Ethniki, was yet another wasted campaign. It was topped off with a 0:1 loss at home to Estonia on the final matchay, although Anastasiadis had taken over the team at that point.

The new man in charge, 65-year-old former PAOK and Cyprus manager, Angelos Anastasiadis, will look to install his style of football into the team, a team whose style of football has been matched by the results of the last four hours... that says something.

Greece will firstly face Liechtenstein away from home in a game where only a win is expected, although such has been the form of the team in recent years one cannot be too certain of the three points. In addition to embarrassing results to minnows like Estonia, Greece have not scored more than two goals in a game since October 2017, and that was against weak opponents Gibraltar and Cyprus.

Only a few days later, Greece have a big task at hand when they travel to well-known opponents, Bosnia. The two teams met recently in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers and endured two intense draws (1:1 in Greece and 0:0 in Bosnia). Bosnia will be hungry for the win and our Ethniki will need to be at their very best to come away with a point and maybe even an eye-raising three points.

This leads us to the new coach's player selections which can be found here with one change: Dimitris Kolovetsios (Panathinaikos) replacing the injured Petros Mantalos (AEK).

In goal, Odisseas Vlachodimos needs to be cemented into the position as Vasilis Barkas has been in poor form of late for AEK. Alexandros Paschalakis, who has had a good season with Super League leaders PAOK, is simply not as good as the Benfica shot stopper, who also has Champions League football experience with the Portuguese giants.

In defense, Kostas Manolas’ absence due to injury is a tremendous loss for Greece, especially with the critical game away to Bosnia. There are no ifs, and, or buts that Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Dimitris Siovas must be the centre back pairing in the matchday two showdown.

To further add to Greece’s defensive injury woes, Papastathopoulos is nursing a knock, however he is expected to be fit for the match against Bosnia. Nonetheless, if he is deemed unfit, Greece will be without their two biggest weapons in the back and I find it difficult that Greece will be able to gain anything from their trip to Zenica. Talks have emerged that Anastasiadis may play Kourbelis at centre back in the opening match away to Liechtenstein and he could be partnered with Atromitos’ Spiros Risvanis.

One of the most interesting call ups is Aris’ wing back Giorgos Valerianos. The left-footed 27-year old has been in great form for Aris this season and can play right back as well. He houses a great cross, speed, and can take on players. I would love to see him get a chance against Liechtenstein and given the unusual lack of defenders picked by Anastasiadis (only Koutris and Bakakis are the wing bags chosen), he could very well see playing time.

The midfield is where eyebrows were raised with the questionable inclusions of Charis Mavrias and Dimitris Kolovos. Mavrias is a good player but up until January, was a journeyman going from club to club. He has now established himself in Cyprus with Omonoia and started eight games this season with one goal to his name.

Like Mavrias, Kolovos only went to Omonoia in January and has started seven games after a failed season in Holland with Willem II. Personally, Kolovos does not offer anything that lacks in the national team. He is a slow, central player, similar to Bakasetas, who also gets another chance in the Ethniki despite 19 poor performances to date. Whilst, Lazaros Lambrou is in fine form in Holland for Fortuna Sittard, scoring goals and providing assists on a weekly basis, which is what the Ethniki desperately needs in their troublesome attack.

Petros Mantalos has been ruled out to injury, so a combination of Andreas Samaris, Andreas Bouchalakis, Manolis Siopis, and Carlos Zeca will likely rule the centre of the park over the two matches. Do not be surprised to see Bouchalakis and Siopis start against Liechtenstein so the experienced combo of Samaris and Zeca will be well rested for the important match against Bosnia.

Anastasiadis has gone for work rate players as well in Mavrias, who can run the flanks nonstop and Siopis, who is a workhorse in the midfield similar to Zeca.

A player like Ioannis Fetfatzidis would have been useful now given the injury to Mantalos but instead, Dimitris Kolovetsios got the call up due to the lack of defensive options in the original squad.

This leaves Fortounis as the lone central attacking midfielder for both games, although Bakasetas could get some time in his more natural position in the first match. This would be a welcoming change from the wing position where he has been poor for both club and country.

It would be great to see the in-form Giorgos Masouras and Tasos Donis on both wings in an expected 4-2-3-1 formation. Both players would provide some speed that has lacked in the Ethniki in the recent past and up front, it will be interesting to see if the goal scoring Efthimis Koulouris or the out of form but vastly experienced, Kostas Mitroglou, get the start.

How the Ethniki deals with Liechtenstein will be important regarding which players will need to feature knowing that against Bosnia, Greece will need their best eleven and the energy level to be there. Ideally, some new blood will be seen in the first match, however in a must win game nothing can be risked or be taken for granted.

See you on the other side.


by Greg Gavalas

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