Changes Needed for Euro 2020
by Greg Gavalas
AGONAsport’s Greg Gavalas looks at the mistakes made by coach Michael Skibbe in the World Cup qualifying playoffs and the changes that need to be made for Greece to qualify for EURO 2020.
The playoffs for the 2018 FIFA World Cup have come and gone. Before the games with Croatia I wrote a piece 'The Ethniki's Ultimate Test', and in that piece, I touched on what I thought Greek National Team coach Michael Skibbe needed to do, in order to succeed and he certainly did not do that. What ended up happening was a disaster of biblical proportions and in my humble opinion, unforgivable.
Before the first game in Zagreb, I knew we needed a miracle when I saw one of the most baffling line ups of a Greek team stretching back to two occasions. The first one goes back to 2010 and the lineup that Otto Rehhagel put out in game one versus South Korea (we lost 2-0) at the World Cup in South Africa and the second occasion was the lineup Alketas Panagoulias put out there for the Greece game against Argentina at the World Cup of 1994 in America (we lost 4-0).
What we witnessed in Zagreb was a travesty, a game that took us back to the nightmares of World Cup 1994 and 2016 Euro Qualifying, a devastating 4-1 defeat which could have been worse. Was I surprised that it finished like this? Not really, and both Skibbe and Kostas Tsanas, Greece's assistant coach, should be ashamed of what they did to Greek Football that night.
Under no circumstances should Skibbe and a Tsanas stay on as the leading men of the Greek National Team, given the amount of errors made the last 12 months. If they do, and to my amazement, there is 50-50 support for yes and no on this, we will not make Euro 2020 unless we see drastic changes in the approach for to the Ethniki. The question is, are they capable of these changes?
I am certain they are not unless what may be a corrupt Federation (EPO) sits them down and asks them some questions. How technical director Zisis Vryzas is watching this before him and not pulling out his hair I do not know.
By now, the fans around the globe that want Skibbe to stay must be wondering, why this. I think these fans just don't want to see a repeat of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign which mentally scarred them.
Much of the Greek lao is largely result based and this is reflected in many discussions I have had, it's not a technical discussion but more around "team unity" and Euro 2016 campaign. It's true that team spirit was re-installed by picking the same players, but this philosophy contributed to our failure to qualify as match fitness proved to be an issue for some of these same players – I will touch on this more.
The Euro 2016 campaign was a disaster, our worst qualifying campaign in history and it's not a basis to mark Skibbe on, and we are not San Marino or Andorra.
I go back to results based fans and the lack of knowledge around our players. If you know Greek Football well, how can anyone, let alone our Head Coach, be happy with Alexandros Tziolis playing 90 minutes almost every game. Tziolis improved one record, his record of wins when starting for Greece the last 4 years went from 0 to 1, that win coming against Cyprus.
Tziolis plays for Al Feiha in Saudi Arabia who are two points off relegation, yet this man was chosen to lead the midfield in both games versus Croatia and most games in 2017. Tziolis has shown nothing at club level for years now, 2013 his last decent season with APOEL, this man should not be in the equation for the National Team. He is a slow player that ruins nearly every attack with over hit passes and offers the team nothing but some height.
You then have the Giannis Maniatis and Giorgos Tzavellas, both at Alanyaspor in Turkey, a team fighting relegation. Skibbe picked these guys to play right and left back respectively against Croatia. For all intensive purposes Maniatis, is well past it, another like Tziolis that should not be in National Team selection. Tzavellas has a free kick on him and a decent shot but we need to look at the future and his lack of speed was always going to cost us. He is an ok player but not for national level anymore.
Apostolos Vellios, who has not made the Nottingham Forest squad this season, and failed at every appearance for the team, is another automatic pick as is Dimitris Diamantakos, who plays his trade in Germany's second division.Both have shown no value at the International stage.
When a coach of a National Team starts or picks these types of players in World Cup qualifiers, something's not right. We saw what happened versus Estonia (0-0) and other less than impressive wins over Cyprus and the first match in Estonia.
The other issue, I mentioned player fitness before, as a National Team coach you need to think ahead and be ready for tomorrow. For whatever reason the EPO did not organize any friendlies the last 12 months – stupid. However, you need to bleed some new guys into the system, we can't continue with players whose first touch sends the ball 1 meter away, or guys that have played 10 minutes all season – that's ludicrous. Of course, these players want Skibbe to stay, National Team selection favors them, it does not favor the team though when you lack game time. Prime example, Orestis Karnezis, has played half an hour for Watford this season, do you remember how Croatia scored their first goal?
Greece has two keepers in great from, Giannis Anestis of AEK, who kept AC Milan at bay twice and Atromitos' Andrea Gianniotis, on an 8-match clean sheet run. Obviously the latter would not have played, but pick in-form players Why is Karnezis playing every match for Greece when he is not playing for his club and why not play Anestis in matches versus Cyprus and Gibraltar for experience. He plays, we don’t go 1-0 down in Zagreb after 12 minutes.
Kostas Stafylidis has played 10 minutes for Augsburg in Germany and is a left back by trade but is played on the left wing against Croatia... his ridiculous mistake gifted Croatia a 4th goal. He has played left wing a few times for Greece and has shown he cannot attack with great effect, yet played there with no games under his belt this season.
Andreas Samaris, in poor form all season, has 2 appearances for Benfica this year, started and was invisible in the middle with Tziolis as Rakatic and Modric did as they pleased in the first leg.
Kostas Fortounis has also been in poor form this season, starts behind Kostas Mitroglou, and was also invisible in Zagreb and as a sub in the return game.
Carlos Zeca, our best defensive midfielder played on the wing in both matches! Diabolical again. Skibbe should have subbed Lazaros Christodoulopoulos or Giannis Gianniotas on for Tziolis in any game and put Zeca back in central midfield.
Point is, team unity is one thing, but that cannot rule over 101 football mistakes, people look at the results (draws vs Bosnia and one vs Belgium) and think its all hunky dory but you need to plan for the future.
Our best game was the game in Bosnia, where we should have won that game with Petros Mantalos, but it was not until Tassos Donis came on and showed speed, skill, and ability to take players on. Give him the ball and he will trap it and look forward, not do what most of the current starters do, try trap a ball and fight for it after it goes a meter away. This is also a clear indication of the academies needed in Greece but that's another story.
I question how much Greek Football both Skibbe and Tsanas watch. How, after the Zagreb disaster, do you start Bakasetas with Tziolis and Panagiotis Tachtsidis in midfield, the slowest trio. Tachtsidis, with 3 appearances for Olympiakos, needs runners around him, not paddlers like Bakasetas and Tziolis. These are things Skibbe needs to be aware of. We managed 1 shot on target in the 90th minutes in a game we needed to score 3 goals.
We need change, the one-dimensional, heavy touch players need to go, we need technical players like Giannis Gianniotas to start on the wing if we want to make Euro 2020. Greece played with no left midfield in Piraeus... a World Cup qualifier with no left midfield... again, unforgivable mistakes.
Gianniotas came on for 30 minutes and did more than Bakasetas or Tziolis have done this campaign from a ball movement perspective.
Dimitrios Kourbelis, has been in great from for Panathinaikos in central midfield, get him on with Zeca, speed and guts. Also from Panathinaikos, Lucas Villafanez, will be eligible for Greek selection this month and is a good technical player with speed and creativity that can play on the left. Another options is Yiannis Fetfatzidis, who has always played well for Greece, and is another good technical player with great skill. Add Dimitris Pelkas in there and you have a more than capable team able to feed Mitroglou and Nikos Karelis, when he is back for good, instead of what Skibbe is doing with central midfielders and left backs in attack supported by slow midfielders.
This is the changing face we need in attack and midfield. I will add in Charalambos Lykogiannis at left back, great player, good in attack and defense and Michalis Bakakis at right back. Skibbe continues to pick one right back, injury prone Vasilis Torosidis, with no back up. Like I said in my last blog, unforgivable mistakes at this level.
For all the unity and player votes for Skibbe, the team needs to be competent and at the moment, with over the hill players, players not playing for their clubs and players played out of position, the Greek National Team and its manager are not.
We need in-form players, players with a future and players played in their natural positions to go forward and we can do that with a coach that knows the Greek players well, we will see progress that way, not with a forced hand or awaiting retirements.