Greece U21 hungry to draw first blood against Austrians
The moment of truth has arrived. In the first leg of the playoff to reach the 2019 UEFA U21 European Championship, Greece welcome Austria to the Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki, eager to build up a solid advantage. AGONAsport previews the encounter.
Remember the last time when the Ethniki Elpidon played at the U21 European Championship? Unfortunately, we have to go back all the way to the 2002 edition, in which the team reached the quarter-final stage. Since then, the best result has been competing in the qualification playoffs in 2011, but this year the Greeks are looking to go one better and qualify for the 2019 tournament. Italy and San Marino will host the competition.
In the first stage of qualifying, Greece were placed in Group 1 with Croatia, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Moldova and San Marino, winning eight of the 10 matches and tallying 25 points. In the penultimate, decisive game, the Elpidon simply needed to avoid defeat against the Croatians to secure a direct passage to the 2019 European Championship, but the players contrived to concede a bitter 0:2 defeat. Croatia claimed first place with a superior head-to-head record and goal difference.
Austria found themselves in a highly challenging group alongside Russia, Serbia, Armenia, FYROM and Gibraltar. It was always going to be a tall order to finish in the top two spots, but the Austrians proved their worth, earning second place in Group 7 with 22 points, four behind leaders Serbia. In the concluding match, Austria hosted the Russians with the two countries level on points, and the home team managed to win 3:2 in dramatic style and consequently celebrate a place in the playoffs.
In their entire history, the Austrians have never qualified for the UEFA U21 European Championship. In comparison, Greece have competed at the tournament on four occasions, even winning a silver medal in 1988 and 1998.
TEAM NEWS: GREECE
Key striker Efthymis Koulouris has been called up to the senior Greek national team and subsequently misses these playoff matches. On the other hand, head coach Antonis Nikopolidis did have the opportunity to summon left-back Konstantinos Tsimikas and midfielder Konstantinos Galanopoulos, who will both be expected to lead from the front. Anastasios Chatziogiovannis has been in superb form with Panathinaikos in the Super League and will be hoping to keep that going on the international stage.
Possible line-up: Kotsaris, Masouras, Nikolaou, Pasalidis, Tsimikas, Androutsos, Galanopoulos, Chatzigiovannis, Bouzoukis, Limnios, Kampetsis.
TEAM NEWS: AUSTRIA
In Group 7, 21-year old midfielder Mathias Honsak was the Austrian top scorer with six goals, but he’s not present in the roster for the two games against Greece. Forwards Arnel Jakupovic and Marko Kvasina boast a combined seven markers between them and the former is likely to start in Thessaloniki. LASK player Alexander Schlager is their number one goalkeeper.
Possible line-up: Schlager, Ingolitsch, Lienhart, Wober, Ullmann, Danso, Ljubic, Horvath, Baumgartner, Wolf, Jakupovic.
REFEREE: ANDRIS TREIMANIS (LVA)
33-year old Latvian national Andris Treimanis will oversee proceedings at the Toumba Stadium. He may be young, but Treimanis is well regarded in the refereeing world, notably taking charge of the Olympique Lyonnais - Shakhtar Donetsk (2:2) and BSC Young Boys - Valencia (1:1) matches in the 2018/2019 UEFA Champions League group stages.
In the UEFA Nations League, Treimanis was the referee for Cyprus’ 2:1 victory against Slovenia in Nicosia, dishing out six yellow cards.
Referee: Andris Treimanis (LVA)
Assistant referees: Haralds Gudermanis (LVA), Aleksejs Spasjonnikovs (LVA)
Fourth official: Aleksandrs Golubevs (LVA)