Experimental Greece side lose in Italy
UEFA EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION - MATCHDAY 7
A youthful and experimental Greece lost 2-0 to Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday as John van ‘t Schip’s tenure continues to raise more questions than answers three games in.
Jorginho opened the scoring from the penalty spot three minutes after the hour mark after Andreas Bouchalakis handballed, and Federico Bernardeschi added a second with 12 minutes left.
This Group J clash, as well as next week’s home match against Bosnia-Herzegovina, were earmarked as a chance for Greece's new Dutch coach to try some of the country’s younger players following a dismal campaign which saw the bumbling Angelos Anastasiadis sacked.
And the unfamiliar, youthful lineup, which included defenders Pantelis Hatzidiakos and Dimitris Kourbelis, PAOK winger Dimitris Limnios, and Hoffenheim left-back Kostas Stafylidis as captain in a 4-3-1-2 formation, battled manfully and had their moments, but did not have the cutting edge to trouble the Italians.
Group leaders Italy are now assured of a place in the Euro 2020 finals while Greece will be watching the tournament on television.
With Greece virtually out of the running for qualifying for Euro 2020, this match in Rome was all about restoring some pride more than anything else after a horror show of a qualifying campaign.
With six rounds in the books, Greece started the match in fifth place in the section, trailing second-placed Finland by seven points. The Greeks needed to beat Italy to maintain any mathematical hope of somehow turning the situation around and qualifying for Euro 2020.
Since Greece famously reached the Last 16 of the FIFA World Cup, their fans have been put through the mill with embarrassing losses to Luxembourg, Estonia and the Faroe Islands, as well as Armenia, alongside the failure to qualify for another major tournament.
Van ‘t Schip’s experimental squad selection, with a clear focus on looking ahead to the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, raised a few eyebrows among media observers and fans alike.
But, despite surrendering the lion's share of possession in a closely contested first half, Greece limited the home side, who failed to register a single shot on target.
Greece had a chance to take the lead, but Italy goalkeeper Roberto Donnarumma saves brilliantly from Limnios.
In the second half Greek legs began to show signs of fatigue, and the game turned on a crucial moment in the 63rd minute when Bouchalakis stuck his arm out to stop a Lorenzo Insigne effort.
Jorginho sent PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis the wrong way to put Roberto Mancini's side ahead.
Then, with 12 minutes left, Paschalakis had to pick pick the ball out of the net once again after failing to stop a long-range diagonal shot by Bernardeschi.
It was a much-improved display from Greece, but it still doesn't answer the questions of what is the team's best way forward.
While Italy has mathematically clinched qualification after this win with three matches to spare, Greece is left with just five points from seven matches. On Tuesday it hosts Bosnia-Herzegovina in Athens.
Italy: 21 Donnarumma (GK), 2 D'Ambrosio, 6 Verratti, 7 Spinazzola, 8 Jorginho, 10 Insigne, 14 Chiesa, 15 Acerbi, 17 Immobile, 18 Barella, 19 Bonucci (C)
Greece: 12 Paschalakis (GK), 2 Bakakis, 3 Stafylidis ©, 5 Siovas, 6 Bouchalakis, 8 Zeca, 9 Koulouris, 14 Bakasetas, 17 Chatzidiakos, 18 Limnios, 21 Kourbelis