Skibbe Goes Local
by Greg Gavalas
AGONAsport’s National Team contributor, Greg Gavalas, looks at Michael Skibbe’s young, local squad selections for Greece’s upcoming friendly against Saudi Arabia.
It has been a long time since I was rather surprised and encouraged with the call-ups for the National Team and whilst I have grown accustomed to some mind-blowing selections for the last 10 years, the last locally based selections for the Ethniki have provided a surprising change with some of the same old.
With the friendly against Saudi Arabia on the 15th of May in Seville approaching, Greek coach Michael Skibbe has gone local with players from the Greek SuperLeague due to the fact that many of the foreign-based players will be wrapping up their seasons abroad.
The situation has tied Skibbe’s hands and has allowed for some welcoming additions to the squad, alongside with the mind-blowing names most fans cannot understand.
The irony to this goes back to 1994. Back then, Greece qualified for their first World Cup in the United States and played the also qualified Saudi’s in Athens only months before the tournament. Coach at the time, the late Alketas Panagoulias, picked a young squad with some amazing talents like Vasilis Tsartas and Christos Kostis. The Greek team would go on to beat the Saudi team 5-1 and only a couple of months later, the Saudi Arabia team would go on to reach the 2nd round of the World Cup, beating Belgium along the way and scoring some great goals. On the other hand, Greece would lose all three games and fail to score a goal. Panagoulias would revert to experience come the trip to America and left the likes of Tsartas, Kostis, and Vasilis Karapialis back in Greece and we all saw the disastrous outcome...
Fast forward to Skibbe’s recent call-ups, Andreas Gianniotis and Vasilis Barkas have been retained in the goalkeeper's position. For the friendly, it would be a good opportunity to start with Barkas of AEK.
In defense, Michalis Bakakis who has had a great season with AEK, is there for right back. He saw some time in the last friendlies against Switzerland and Egypt and showed what many were calling for great speed, plenty of running, and his ability to take the place of veteran Vasilis Torosidis. In my book, he offers much more than the veteran and should be the number one right back nowadays.
Triantafyllos Pasalidis is the back up from Asteras Tripolis and depending on how the game is panning out, it would be good to see him play as well. Keep in mind, AEK and PAOK play in the Greek Cup final on Saturday just a few days before and players from these respective teams (10 in total) may be better off on the bench to start.
Greece is blessed with central defenders and even with our best 3 or 4 missing, the Ethniki is still rich in talent. It will be interesting to see who Skibbe goes with against Saudi Arabia. The players picked for this position are Spyros Risvanis, Vasilis Lambropoulos, Dimitris Chatziisaias, and Dimitris Nikolaou. I would love to see the Atromitos duo of Risvanis and Chatziisaias but I would also like to see Lambropoulos get a run as he really deserves it, something to watch out for in the future.
Left back, on paper, looks special for Dimitris Giannoulis. He has been consistent at the Peristeri outfit, but knowing Skibbe’s past decisions, he will play a centre back there, so keep an eye on this.
In the midfield, there is one abroad player selected… drum roll….You guessed it, Alexandros Tziolis, who continues to defy all odds to make the squad.
There are some other familiar faces here with Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Petros Mantalos (who is back from injury), Kostas Fortounis, Dimitris Pelkas, and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos. Pelkas and Lazaros will feature in the Cup final for PAOK and AEK so I am not sure how much time they will get on Tuesday, but it gives Fortounis a chance to put in a good performance after Pelkas’ impressive game against Egypt.
Also in the mix and in my opinion, great selections, are Athanasios Androutsos from Olympiacos and Kostas Galanopoulos from AEK. These two youngsters are very talented players who I think can help the Ethniki become much more dynamic. Androutsos is an attacking midfielder whilst Galanopoulos is a defensive minded midfielder.
With these players serving as valuable options, it would be a crime to see Tziolis and Tachtsidis start, similar to the Egypt friendly in March.
Tasos Bakasetas continues his Ethniki call-up and depending on his involvement in the Cup final, usually starts in Skibbe's plans. PAOK duo, Dimitris Limnios and Efthymis Koulouris, have also been selected. I do not think they will get much playing time over the weekend, so we may see them start and it would be good to see Limnios on the wing.
The other selection and one I have been calling for some time is Asteras Tripolis striker Michalis Manias. The tall striker from Tripoli has been the best scoring Greek forward in Greece for the last two seasons and I would love to see him start and show his worth on the international stage. If Greece play a young midfield (no Tziolis) that can create chances, it will be a great opportunity for Manias to do what he does best, score goals.
There is lots of optimism around the squad, and as mentioned earlier, with the AEK-PAOK Cup Final on Saturday, it could lead to a very interesting line up against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
It would have been great to see Ioannis Fetfatzidis in this squad as I feel his speed and skill would compliment many of these players. Likewise, Dimitris Manos from OFI Crete, who has scored 24 goals in as many matches in this year’s Football League, would have been perfect for a call-up considering only minimal strikers were picked this go around.
Looking forward to the game, Greece has only scored 2 goals in their last four matches. My hope is that we see some reward with a very hungry squad selection that should play a much faster and open game than what we are accustomed.