Underwhelming Turkish test
AGONAsport’s Ethniki contributor, Greg Gavalas, talks about Greece’s disappointing loss against Turkey in a friendly where coach Angelos Anastasiadis tested different players, formations, and tactics.
Fans all over the world had mixed reactions to the friendly game that was scheduled by the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) with Greece’s biggest rivals, Turkey, in a match played in Attaleia.
Kafenia, social media platforms, and Greek football forums lit up. Some fans were happy with the initiative to have the team play a warm up match, others were not happy that the game was played in line with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 (May 29), while others demanded the team win, a win with shouts of patriotism.
For some time now, I have called for more friendlies due to the fact that not one friendly was played in 2017 while only three were scheduled in 2018. Friendlies are great opportunities to try out players, test different formations, and game plans and despite the underwhelming performance in Turkey, I believe Angelos Anastasiadis has a plan up his sleeve.
However, that statement comes with a grain of salt. The Ethniki’s performances in friendly matches have been sub-par for some time. In the last five friendly games played, Greece have just one win (against Egypt before the 2018 World Cup) and Dimitris Kourbelis’ goal in Turkey was just the team’s second goal in those five games. To find Greece’s previous friendly win (excluding the win over Egypt) and the most impressive display in a friendly in the last five years, one has to go back to September 2016, when the Greeks upset the Dutch 2-1 in Eindhoven.
The match with Turkey saw an experimental team take the pitch, more so in defense where Charis Mavrias started at right back, Kourbelis partnered in the center of defense with debutant Georgios Valerianos, while Leonardo Koutris played on the left side of defense.
Ahead of them were Andreas Samaris and Emmanuel Siopis, rounding off two Aris starters in the lineup. They were flanked on the wings by Giorgos Masouras on the right side and Dimitris Pelkas on the left side while Kostas Fortounis was in the central attacking position behind the Super League’s top scorer, Efthymios Koulouris.
Sadly, this setup did not work. For one, the midfield was nonexistent and the defense, especially in the center, was all over the place as the Turkish team had much more energy, technique, movement, and some great passing combos that rattled the Ethniki. Greece, on the other hand, were slow, sluggish, without movement or combinations, and the touches and technique on the ball looked amateurish.
Anastasiadis should not be blamed for trying ‘new’ things. I myself have called for this for years after seeing one friendly after another go to waste. Why the Greek players only turn up for a friendly game in one out of five outings is another item that the set up needs to look at.
One move that clearly did not work was playing Valerianos at the center of defense. The left-footed Aris back is generally played on the right or left side of defense and was found out of position after Turkey scored their first goal through Cengiz Under. The Turkish international was left all the time in the world to unleash a rocket into the Greek goal past Alexandros Paschalakis, who went on to be one of Greece’s best players in the match with many key saves to stop the opposition from scoring more goals.
Turkey found much space, especially on the left-hand side where Koutris and Pelkas were, however the second goal came from another considerable under performer, Andreas Samaris. The Benfica midfielder carelessly gave away the ball just outside the box which landed to Kenan Karaman and he had no issue placing a shot past Paschalakis for a 2-0 Turkey lead.
That wasn’t the only poor pass from Samaris and the Greek team as a whole in Thursday’s encounter. In general, Greece really lacked cohesion and team work. The lack of a quality touch on the ball was one reason for this as heavy first touches and lack of off the ball movement were common factors in Greece’s display.
Whilst the defense was constantly opened by the Turkish offense, the midfield did not come through either. Siopis tried the hardest and broke up some Turkish attacks, but he could not do it on his own. In another tough test, Samaris failed to make any form of impact or show leadership, instead it was a fist full of mistakes, similar to the Bosnia game in Euro qualifying.
Masouras and Pelkas were almost non factors in the match. The latter was especially quiet, but it must be mentioned that he plays better in the center of midfield as opposed to the wings.
Up front, Fortounis had a very non impactful game and did not connect with any of his teammates, whilst Koulouris failed to receive any kind of service.
Greece were that disjointed, however do not underestimate the energy Turkey brought into the game, the hosts had much more of it. In the post-game conference, Anastasiadis said the team was tired from the training camp in the Netherlands. Greece also played a game against the Global Football Academy on Monday, whilst it was unofficial, it creates running and imposes fatigue on the players. The Ethniki played Turkey on Thursday night, so it would have made an impact as the Greek players chased their ‘fresh’ opposition, who did not stop running or passing - they let the ball do all the work.
In the second half, Kostas Stafylidis, Dimitris Kolovos, and Andreas Bouchalakis came on to improve the left hand side and center midfield. They made a small improvement to the overall picture, but still failed to trouble the Turks or manage anything noteworthy.
I would like to see Kolovos given more time on the pitch. He is a direct player that looks forward and the Ethniki lacks that at times. He looks to make runs into good positions, which can significantly help the Greek attack, his goal against Bosnia is a perfect example.
After the game, Anastasiadis took responsibility for the defeat and pointed to factors such as travel and lack of game time which all contributed to the poor showing. A fair statement to say the least...
I am confident a resounding improvement will be seen against Italy and then Armenia in the two upcoming critical Euro 2020 qualifiers next week. Greece will have Kostas Manolas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos back in defense, Dimitris Siovas joins the squad as does Tasos Donis and Carlos Zeca.
One thing is certain: Greece cannot continue coming into matches with sluggish starts. Against Bosnia and Turkey, the Ethniki found themselves down 2:0 after just 15 and 17 minutes of play. A similar slow start against Italy will surely prove costly so the players will need to step it up and play football from the opening whistle if they are to grab a result against Italy or Armenia.