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- Euro 2012
Coach: Fernando Santos (Portugal).
Squad: Kostas Chalkias (PAOK Thessaloniki), Michalis Sifakis (Aris Thessaloniki), Alexandros Tzorvas (Palermo).
Vasilis Torosidis (Olympiakos), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke 04), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Werder Bremen), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos), Iosif Holebas (Olympiakos), Giorgos Tzavelas (Monaco), Stelios Malezas (PAOK Thessaloniki).
Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos), Yannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Giorgos Fotakis (PAOK Thessaloniki), Grigoris Makos (AEK Athens), Yannis Fetfatzidis (Olympiakos), Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos), Kostas Fortounis (1. FC Kaiserslautern).
Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK Thessaloniki), Giorgos Samaras (Celtic), Theofanis Gekas (Samsunspor), Nikos Liberopoulos (AEK Athens), Kostas Mitroglou (Atromitos).
Likely formation: 4-3-3.
Prediction: Last 8.
Greece could count just one participation in the European Championship and another one in the World Cup until 2004, when the utterly unexpected triumph in Portugal – odds to win were 80-1 before the tournament’s kickoff – sealed a new era for Greek football. Having been on the fringes of continental football until one decade ago, Greece is now listed among the major countries in Europe with three consecutive qualifications to all international competitions between 2008 and 2012.
Doubtless, this is the most evident legacy of Otto Rehhagel. The prosperous interregnum of the German coach came to an end after the sour elimination at the 2010 World Cup, where the Greeks managed to win just one out of three matches in the group stage. The contribution by Rehhagel to Greek football is still undisputed, though, and his successor Fernando Santos is benefitting of the efforts made by the Essen-born manager in the last eight years.
The German coach, later nicknamed “King Otto”, let severity enter inside a dressing room particularly affected by the indiscipline of many prima donnas. Furthermore, players became more conscious of their potential and incredibly won the 2004 Euro. But miracles can only happen once and, quintessentially, honeymoons cannot last forever.
Replacing Rehhagel with Portuguese Fernando Santos, awarded as coach of the decade in 2010 by the Greek Football League, came up as the most natural and reasonable decision. And also under the new coach Greece confirmed to be a with a German soul, absolutely pragmatic and effective, not likely to score plenty of goals or to stun crowds with entertaining football. At least, improvements showed up as the Greeks are playing with a 4-3-3, theoretically more aggressive than the team who triumphed in 2004 with five midfielders and four defenders, with ex-Sheffield United Traianos Dellas fielded as a sweeper.
Captain Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis are the only two members of that squad who are still performing internationally. They should regularly appear in the three-player halfway line, but their impact on the destinies of Greece will expectedly not be the same of eight years ago, bearing in mind they are both abundantly aged over 30.
This may be a good reason for Santos to give a chance to offensive midfielders Yannis Fetfatzidis and Sotiris Ninis, allegedly the most promising players produced by the country in recent years. Nicknamed the “Greek Messi”, 21-year-old Fetfatzidis is a tiny, left-footed talent particularly gifted in dribbling and creating numerical superiority, while right-footed Ninis has been recently signed by Parma after his early steps as a professional with Panathinaikos.
An eventual appearance of both of them in the starting lineup would make the Greeks a more creative and erratic side, but it is unlikely to see Santos not faithful to his dogma or, better to say, his chosen offensive line. Greece’s goal proficiency will be up to prodigal son Theofanis Gekas, back to play with the national team after a previous announcement of retirement in September 2010. The former Portsmouth player – although with just one presence – will be supported on the flanks by Celtic giant Giorgos Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis.
Another rising star is Schalke 04 defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos. A 20-year-old centre-back who can serve also as defensive midfielder, he has already earned eight caps and scored three goals thanks to his capacity of being dangerous on set pieces. Figuring out defence and midfield to be like the Parthenon, he will represent one of the columns together with versatile wingback Vasilis Torosidis, solid centre-backs Avraam Papadopoulos (no relationship) and Sokratis Papastathopoulos and fullback Iosif Holebas and Giorgos Tzavelas.
Winning the trophy like in 2004 is no more than a pipe dream, reaching the quarter-finals and letting the Greeks forget the abysmal performance given in 2008 (elimination at the first round with no victories in three matches and just one goal scored) is a more achievable target.
A final note: imagine that Greece eventually manage to win again. How would you regard a second European triumph just in the same year that bared the turbulent relationship between the country and Europe as a political entity?