News story by: Greg Gavalas
Early goals from Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar saw Czech Republic revive their Euro 2012 campaign with victory over Group A rivals Greece in Wroclaw.
The Czechs were 2-0 to the good inside just six minutes as midfielders Jiracek and Pilar made the most of some generous Greek defending. Substitute Fanis Gekas pulled a goal back after a terrible error by Petr Cech, but Fernando Santos' side lacked the guile to carve out an equaliser leaving many Greek fans disappointed with the Portuguese lacking productive changes and not utilising the right players and system.
The Czechs' opening 4-1 loss to Russia left them knowing another defeat would end their hopes of reaching the last eight but they could hardly have wished for a better opening.
Jiracek put them ahead in the third minute as he ran on to Tomas Hubschman's pass to fire home, despite Greek keeper Kostas Chalkias getting a hand to his left-footed shot.
Chalkias was then at fault for the second goal as he failed to cut out Theodor Gebre Selassie's low cross to allow Pilar to tap in his second goal of the tournament.
The lively Pilar came close to adding a third as he played a neat one-two on the edge of the area before firing just wide of the left-hand post.
Georgios Samaras had Greece's first sight of goal but the Celtic striker made a mess of meeting Vassilis Torosidis' cross.
Chalkias' miserable day continued as he was forced off after just 21 minutes, having pulled up after playing a pass out to his defenders, with Michalis Sifakis coming on to replace him. A blessing in disguise for some. Chalkias is rated towards the end of the top 10 keepers in Greece, his inclusion was a surprise to many, known as an error prone keeper, the oldest player at the Euro only confirmed what critics have being saying.
Czech captain Tomas Rosicky was booked after his high boot caught his Greece counterpart Giorgios Karagounis on the head but the Czechs' dominance continued as Sifakis was forced into his first save by a low Rosicky drive.
Greece thought they had pulled a goal back five minutes before the break as Georgios Fotakis headed in a Torosidis cross, but he was wrongly ruled to have been offside. The disallowed goal is just another tough pill for Greece to swallow following Socratis Papastathopoulos’s silly red card in game one with Poland, now the Greek’s were down 2-0 and the goal just before half time what just what the doctor ordered, instead another bad decision has ultimately put Greece in a tough position.
It should have been 3-0 seconds after the restart as the Czechs, whose captain Rosicky was replaced by Daniel Kolar at the break, again surged forward.
Gebre Selassie found more joy down the right but Milan Baros could not get the ball out of his feet when just 10 yards out. But it was the Greeks who found the net next thanks to a calamitous mistake from Cech.
The Chelsea keeper came racing out for an aimless long ball by Samaras but, distracted by Tomas Sivok, he lost control and substitute Gekas had the simple task of directing the loose ball into an empty net.
Buoyed by the goal Greece finally began to exert some control on the game with Karagounis and Samaras becoming increasingly prominent but they struggled to create any genuine clear-cut chances, and struggled to test Cech after the Chelsea keeper's blunder. I
Instead of making the Czech’s run and wonder what will happen next, Greece’s main artillery was Kostas Kastouranis lobbing the ball into the penalty box in search of Gekas and second half substitute Kostas Mitroglou. The game plan was a disappointing one as the Czechs comfortably saw out the closing stages for a vital win.
GREEK MATCH SUMMARY
Man of the Match: Kyrgiakos Papadopoulos. Kyrgiakos was one of the few to show some heart in a game Greece needed to win, while there were some tough moments for the 20 year old defender he generally did well and even tried to a couple of one two’s at the end of the game as Greece’s attack struggled to look good. In general no Greek player really stood out in an overall poor performance.
Greece verdict: Twice now they have paid the price for starting matches slowly. Against Poland they were asleep for the first half, and this course of events repeated itself on Tuesday evening. In the second period, when the Czechs were not their bustling first-half selves, Greece upped the ante. And, again like Matchday One, a substitute proved effective as Theofanis Gekas popped up with a goal.
Left back Jose Holebas seems to be struggling at left back having been caught out of position on all three goals Greece has conceded.
Kostas Chalkias has proven his doubters right with a poor showing in this match, while some feel he should have saved the first goal, the 2 nd goal should have been tranquilised on the cross by Gebre which should have been a Chalkias save.
The Greek midfield has been one of the weakest on the tournament, after showing good promise in the Poland game, the Greeks referred back to old tactics of long ball after long ball. Younger more energetic and creative players need to come into the fold sooner rather then later.
Could do better: Fernando Santos. When the experienced Portuguese coach took over the reins from long standing Otto Rehhagel, many expected changes to an aging team that struggled to look the part at both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 and it looked that way early on as Santos gave a fair few youngsters a run with the national team.
As Euro 2012 approached Santos’s tactics resembled Rehhagel’s latter failed routines more and more.
The formation is one talking point which is compiled with the players Santos considers his main weapons. Santos has stuck with the 4-3-3 Rehhagel brought in after Euro 2004 in an attempt to create more chances, however the personnel has hardly changed and what failed at Euro 2008 is still the engine room of Euro 2012, that is Karagounis and Katsouranis running the middle. They are joined by one Kostas Maniatis who came off a stellar season with Greek champions Olympiacos.
Maniatis is not the problem though, in fact he adds some much needed running and mongrel in the midfield, Karagounis and Katsouranis (known to fans as the KK combo) are more so an issue in such a system, both are not big runners, Karagounis is now 35 years old and not the runner he was 5 years ago, yet Santos is playing him for 90 minutes a game and the strain is telling on captain courageous.
Katsouranis is now 32 and was never a big runner and some would say one dimensional in his game, lacking speed, agility and just general eagerness to get the team forward.
The result has seen Poland and the Czech’s pack their midfields and dominate Greece quite comfortably early on in their matches resulting in both teams key goals.
While Santos looked promising in regards to youth development, sadly at this tournament the former PAOK coach looks to be turning his head from the youth movement, something that has hampered Greece since Euro 2004.
Following the Papastathopoulos red card, many wondered who Santos would play in his place and who would be drafted in to midfield or defence and considering Greece needed the win fans prayed young aspirations Sotiris Ninis and Ioannis Fetfatzidis would get their chance to shine where the play best… it was not to be.
Santos instead drafted Katsouranis to defence (has played there before) and introduced Georgios Fotakis of PAOK to midfield leaving fans wondering what it will take for the creative guys to get a go.
The move proved another failure as Fotakis hardly featured in the first half besides the disallowed goal that should have been.
What has most fans scratching their heads was Santos’ prerogative to throw more and more strikers into the Czech game at the expense of midfielders. After Gekas’s goal, Greece looked much more assertive and promising but the midfield could not penetrate any real scoring chances, Karagounis and the wingers simply didn’t connect, Kostas Fortounis was one of the few who looked the real deal and was substituted off for Mitroglou as Samaras and Karagounis would go from side to side and backwards which ultimately resulted in Katsouranis’s lob ball after lob ball.
Sadly for Greece, Dimitris Salpigidis didn’t prove the break through as he did in the Poland game but with little service it’s no wonder.
In conclusion, the 4-3-3 with the current personal Santos has banked on, does not work, opposition teams are over-running the Greek midfield with some ease which the Russian’s are more then capable of doing too.
Santos needs to look at this and play a system with more midfield presence especially if Karagounis and Katsouranis feature.
The Greek game needs to be rejuvenated, slow pace and long balls are no longer the flavour of success and haven’t been for many years. The team needs speed, skill and creativity something younger players like Ninis, Fetfatzidis, Fortounis along with the likes of Torosidis, K Papadopoulos and with the right service Gekas can provide.
It’s also a reason, some players that didn’t make the squad like Lazaros Christodoulopoulos of PAO, Georgios Georgiadis of PAOK, Apostolis Vellios of Everton FC and a superstar in the making Panagiotis Vlahomdimos who recently signed with Olympiacos from Skoda Xanthi, need to be implemented into the senior team.
Stat attack: After conceding the fastest goal at Euro 2004 to Russia, Greece has put its name to another unwanted statistic… After going 2-0 down in just 7 minutes against the Czech Republic it’s the quickest 2 goal concession at a European Championship game.