(Credit: Jason O'Callaghan)
While Giovanni Trapattoni named his Ireland team a day ahead of the friendly with Greece, his opposite number Fernando Santos was not so forthcoming with his team selection when speaking in Aviva Stadium on the eve of the game. In fact he hadn’t even told his own players the starting XI. This friendly is being billed in some quarters as an austerity derby and Santos is expecting this game to be more than a simply a friendly but that is nothing to do with the economic situation.
“There are some friendly games that are just friendly games,” said the Portuguese manager of Greece, “and there are some friendlies that are more competitive. This friendly with the Irish team will be more competitive. It will be a game between two good strong teams. The characteristic of the Irish team is that they are a strong, similar to ours. They never quit and try with all of their strengths to win every game independently of the opponent.”
There has been much discussion of team formations and Ireland will revert back to 4-4-2 tomorrow after some recent flirtations with 4-3-3. Greece have used both systems as Santos explained. “In the three years that I’ve been the head coach in charge of the national team, we have regularly played 4-3-3 but in last two or three months we have played 4-4-2.”
Ireland have only played Greece twice before with the last fixture a dull 0-0 draw in Athens in 2002. The game is notable only in that Don Givens managed the team that night giving Bohemians player Glenn Crowe a start – the first League of Ireland player to be capped for Ireland in 16 years since Shamrock Rovers captain Pat Byrne.
Trapattoni after last month’s travails against Germany has remained the man in charge of Ireland for now and Santos was sympathetic to the Italian when discussing the 6-1 defeat to Germany. The Greeks themselves were beaten by Germany during the summer with their 4-2 defeat eliminating Greece from EURO 2012.
“He is a great man in football,” said Santos about Trapattoni, “much respected from all persons that work in football and know football. His teams are always strong and competitive. I believe that the victory of Germany over Ireland was an abnormal result. The characteristic of the Ireland team is that they fight to the end, have great passion for football and are motivated by their supporters. The characteristic of the team match very well with coach Trapattoni.”
Santos did confirm that Olympiacos’ Chose Cholebas will start at left back. He will also most likely hand a first start to Stefanos Athanasiadis. It looks like the PAOK striker will take the place of his club teammate Dimitris Salpingidis who had scored three goals in Greece’s last eight competitive games. Athanasiadis will partner Greek captain Giorgos Samaras up front. The Celtic striker goes into the game confident after his club’s side famous win in Barcelona last week. “Samaras is always is very confident in his skills,” said his manager, “and confident about the team.”
In this Greek squad are three new players and Santos doesn’t feel it is a risk to bring new players into his team. He is expected to give a debut to one of those new players Panagiotis Tachtsidis. The 21 year old midfielder has made nine appearances for Roma this season after joining this summer for a transfer fee of €2.5m. He came off the bench to play in last Sunday’s Rome derby. Speaking on his call up to the squad Tachtsidis said: “It is an honour for me to be called up for my national team. I worked a lot to improve and waited for my call to the team as a reward all those efforts.”
Greece (probable): Orestis Karnezis (Panathinaikos); Vasilis Torosidis (Olympiakos), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke04), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Werder Bremen), Chose Cholebas (Olympiakos); Giannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Alexandros Tziolis (APOEL), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Roma), Kostas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern); Stefanos Athanasiadis (PAOK), Giorgos Samaras (Celtic).
Macdara made his debut as a football supporter in Lansdowne Road watching Ireland defeat Liechtenstein. He still believes one day he will see his club Shamrock Rovers win an FAI Cup. You can follow Macdara on twitter @macdarabueller