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Greece: Progress a tough ask

May 25, 2012 15:21:46 UK
Theofanis Gekas is one to watch for the Greeks.

Euro 2012 group: Group A with Poland, Russia and Czech Republic.
Qualifying campaign: P10 W7 D3 L0 - Finished top of Group F with 24 points, 2 points ahead of Croatia.
Record at European Championships: Three appearances. Winners in 2004.
Performance in 2008: Group Stage
Manager: Fernando Santos
Player to watch: Theofanis Gekas
Odds to win Euro 2012: 1213.00
Odds to win group: 151.00

Greece shocked the football world at Euro 2004 when they won the tournament against all the odds, but at Euro 2008, they set a new record by becoming the first defending champions not to earn a single point following their previous competition win. They scored just one goal in the process.

They did avoid facing some of the bigger nations at Euro 2012 when the group draw was made, but it will still be a hard task for them to qualify from Group A.

However, they can take heart from their impressive qualifying campaign. They finished top of Group F, two points ahead of Croatia, and didn't lose a single one of their 10 matches. Defensively, they were very strong, conceding just five goals en route to Poland and Ukraine.

Scoring 14 goals in qualifying is a poor haul though and their two main strikers, Georgios Samaras and Fanis Gekas, will need to hit the ground running if Greece are to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.

Former Manchester City star Samaras is now an integral part of Neil Lennon's squad at SPL champions Celtic, but his scoring ability has come under some scrutiny recently.

In his four-year career at Celtic Park, he has netted a paltry 32 times. However, his exceptional performances against Old Firm rivals Rangers demonstrate he can handle the big occasion, while the 27-year-old also scored a massive goal for Greece in qualifying against group favourites Croatia.

Samsunspor star Gekas has 21 goals in 56 international appearances so he will be the Greeks' main danger man.

However, Angelos Charisteas, who will also be in contention, cannot be overlooked. The 32-year-old is best remembered for scoring the winner against Portugal in the Euro 2004 final. He is currently Greece's second-top goalscorer of all time with 25 strikes (from 88 appearances).

At the back, Palermo's Alexandros Tzorvas should get the nod between the sticks, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos has enjoyed a good season for Werder Bremen and will be hoping to continue his impressive form.

He has also played for AC Milan and Genoa, so has extensive experience of top level football. Avraam Papadopoulos is likely to partner him in the heart of defence.

Kyriakos Papadopoulos would be another good choice in central defence. The young Schalke star successfully replaced the injured Avraam Papadopoulos to earn his first cap against Malta last June. He played well in that game, scoring the second goal for Greece, and has played six times since for the national team.

Olympiakos players Jose Holebas and Vasilis Torosidis are likely to play at left-back and right-back respectively, while Ioannis Maniatis and Georgios Tzavelas would be the best second choices should either first-choice player succumb to injury or suspension.

In the centre of the park, Monaco's Alexandros Tziolis is one of Greece's most-capped midfielders with 31 appearances. His partners are likely to be the experienced Panathinaikos duo Kostas Katsouranis and Georgios Karagounis in a 4-3-3 formation.

Katsouranis is the more defensively minded of the pair although both do pop up with the occasional goal.

Although young, fellow Panathinaikos star Sotiris Ninis will still be a reliable reserve choice in midfield but he needs to find his form soon after he endured a serious knee injury in the qualifying game against Israel last September. The injury kept him out of action for nearly six months and he still needs to prove his fitness.

Dimitrios Salpingidis, who has scored seven goals in 55 international appearances, is likely to shape the Greek attack alongside Gekas and Samaras, while Ioannis Fetfatzidis and Kostas Mitroglou are likely to act as effective back-up.

The Greeks start Euro 2012 against co-hosts Poland, who will have a huge backing in the tournament's opening fixture. You feel both sides will need to win this match to have any chance of going through.

This won't worry the Greek team though as they have a good history when it comes to beating host nations, having done so in 2004 when they won 2-1 against Portugal.

Russia will be deemed favourites by many to win Group A, so it could be a tussle for second position between the remaining three teams - Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Despite an impressive qualifying campaign, it might be a bridge too far for Greece, just like it was four years ago.

However, their success in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, coupled with manager Fernando Santos' determination to succeed in his first major international tournament, could be enough to see them through.

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Correct at Tuesday 22nd May 2012

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