What is needed in upcoming friendlies
by Greg Gavalas
AGONAsport’s Greg Gavalas discusses what Skibbe needs to do to make the most of Greece’s upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Egypt.
Finally, the Greek National Team has some friendly matches ahead after going through 2017 without a single friendly, which was desperately needed with Michael Skibbe's outdated team and tactics.
For me, these games are very important after Greece failed to reach another major tournament, this time the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Whilst some fans were contempt with the "family feel" that Skibbe brought to the National Team, I don't think calling up a core group of players is good enough when not considering form or club game time. In 2017, we saw a team that really lacked speed and creativity which could be why the Ethniki only has 2 wins in 12 months.
There are a few things from these two friendlies that will tell us much about Michael Skibbe.
As the World Cup qualifiers went on, with each game I lost more and more belief in the German coach, to the point I questioned how well he knows the Greek talent available. I questioned if he was basing his call-ups on the assistant coach’s recommendations, the same assistant that has been apart of the team for some years and has shown little to no enterprise. Skibbe’s line ups and selections just showed a clueless person and I have explained this in my previous blogs about Skibbe.
Despite my wishes, Skibbe renewed his contract by another man who I feel is going through the motions, Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) president Vaggelis Grammenos. However, when Skibbe signed his 2-year contract extension, the German boss did talk about the need for in-form players and some youth. My heavens opened and Skibbe finally addressed something that many worried and screamed about in the last campaign.
I am still skeptical though, until I see this followed through...I am nervous. In order to gain confidence in the coach and team, the list below is what we need to see or not to see in the two games against Switzerland and Egypt.
Not see - Orestis Karnezis start both games or get the majority of playing time in goal. We know what Karnezis can and can’t do (save a penalty) as he is the trusted number one.
See - The two young goalkeepers of Vasilios Barkas and Andreas Gianniotis to get time at the international level.
Not see - Michalis Bakakis getting minimal playing time. Surely he will be used in one game and Vasilis Torosidis in the other. I want to see how Torosidis actually performs, as his form has been inconsistent as age gets the better of the veteran right back. For Bakakis, it is a much overdue call up.
See - Babis Lykogiannis given more than 90 minutes of play. It will be inexcusable especially if Tzavellas and Stafylidis see more time than Lykogiannis.
Not See - Stafylidis should not be played in the midfield, a contested topic amongst Greek fans, but I strongly believe we need midfielders in the upper field, not make-shift left backs.
See - Panagiotis Retsos given a go at centerback. He has had time as a right back at the club and national level, but I feel he is more so an excellent CB and needs to get some time there with the Ethniki.
See - Kostas Kourbelis & Dimitris Pelkas given at least 90 minutes in the midfield while Alexandros Tziolis should barely get any playing time. Kourbelis and Pelkas are two young, talented players that need to get implemented into this team right away. I would love to see the former Panathinaikos duo of Kourbelis and Zeca in the heart of our midfield and Pelkas in front of them behind the lone striker. Pelkas has been in great form this season and has helped PAOK (before they hit the self-destruction button) reach the heights of 16 straight wins while scoring some great goals along the way. I also feel he is in better form than Kostas Fortounis who has been ordinary this season at Olympiacos.
Not See - Tziolis getting lots of playing time. I have expressed my views on Tziolis many times and it is a loss that Skibbe feels he is our “must have” in the heart of the team. It seems no matter what Tziolis does, it’s perfect for Skibbe.
Not see - Tasos Bakasetas getting time on the wing as this will be a very big waste for the Ethniki. He has also not been great for AEK on the wings as he is a central player without housing the speed needed to play on the wings.
See - AEK teammate, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, should get at least 90 minutes on the wings and likewise Giannis Gianniotas and Tasos Donis. That was one of the highlights of Skibbe’s selections, having actual wingers in the squad for a change and he should not have to rely on central players to play out wide. The few times the Galanolefki has played with wingers in the last 4 years, they have looked good, but it has been far and few in that time.
See - Give Limnios from PAOK some playing time. The youngster was also included in the selections and whilst I think he has some development to undergo before the International stage, given he is in the squad, I think it would be worth playing him and giving the fast winger some international exposure.
Either way - Efthimis Koulouris is a striker also from PAOK that was called to the Men’s squad for the first time. I am not sure if he can offer much, despite a good U21 record, however given Greece’s lack of options up front and the final demotion of Apostolos Vellios and Diamantakos, let’s see if Koulouris can offer more.