Greece are another nation in Group A who have never been seen as a fluent football country. However, despite these unfashionable views, the Greeks are taken at least a little bit seriously following their unexpected triumph eight years ago where they won the European Championships. It has to be said that since then they have faltered and never tasted anywhere near the levels of success that occurred in that competition. Still, with the Greeks placed in supposedly the “easiest group” of Euro 2012, they will certainly hold some confidence as they aim for a repeat of their feat in 2004.
Greece were one of the few teams in the Euro 2012 qualifying stages who did not taste victory. This resulted in the Greeks winning their group, following an accumulation of twenty four points. It has to be said that their group was of a relatively weak nature, although the likes of Israel and Croatia did at least provide some competition. Their success in the qualifying rounds meant that their standing in the FIFA World Rankings improved substantially, with the Greeks currently viewed as the 8th best team in the world according to the system.
The man who was going to replace Otto Rehhagel would certainly have to be something special, after Rehhagel completely transformed Greece during his nine year tenure between 2001 and 2010. Rehhagel had established the Greeks into a no-nonsense, well-organised, defensive side, who even the best would struggle to break down. That approach certainly proved successful during his spell as manager, although his replacement Fernando Santos has other ideas. Since taking over in 2010, Santos has brought more attacking flair to the Greek side although this is certainly at a small defensive detriment. Still, with Santos managing the likes of Porto, Benfica, AEK Athens, Sporting CP and Panathinaikos in the past, his philosophies should not be questioned as there is no doubt that he is an extremely competent coach. During his two year spell in charge of the national team, Santos has overseen just one defeat while his win record of 55% is certainly impressive and at least provides some encouragement ahead of this tournament.
Unlike a lot of the nations participating in this tournament, most of Greece’s players actually ply their trade in their home country. It would be fair to say that Greece have few sparkling individuals and instead operate as more of a team. 32-year-old holding midfielder Kostas Katsouranis is seen as one of Greece’s biggest assets, with the nation relying on his set pieces heavily. Elsewhere, followers of the British leagues may be familiar with striker Giorgos Samaras, who tends to play a supporting role when playing for his country. There is no doubt that Samaras has enjoyed some superb years in British football, most notably with Celtic, but having scored just seven goals for his country there is a doubt whether he can replicate his domestic form on the international scene. A lot of Greek hopes will be placed on the shoulders of Sotiris Ninis, a 22-year-old winger who has even been likened to the “Greek Lionel Messi” in some quarters. However, despite Ninis’ undoubted talent, Fernando Santos tends to utilize his pace from the bench meaning that he rarely starts and instead targets tiring defenders.
There is no doubt that Greece are best known for their victory in the 2004 European Championships, as prior to that they had tasted minimal success. However, it was certainly a different story in the same tournament four years later, with the Greeks failing miserably to retain their trophy having crashed out at the group stage. In terms of World Cup history, there really is not much to shout about, with the nation managing to qualify on just two occasions – with both of these resulting in early exits from the competition after failing at the group stage.
Even though Greece triumphed in the European Championships eight years ago, we just can’t see a repeat of that tournament occurring. Fernando Santos’ side may be in the easy group of Euro 2012 and they may have won their group in qualifying for the tournament. However, on paper their squad is significantly weaker than several of their rivals and for that reason, we just can’t see the Greeks progressing past the group stage of Euro 2012.