Early on we actually looked really good, I mean really early on. We were getting plenty of touches on the ball and Sotiris Ninis and Georgios Samaras looked sharp in the early goings. A spell of Paraguayan pressure just after 5 minutes gone suggested that the Greek backline was going to be put under some heavy pressure. And thus it was no surprise that with only 25 minutes on the clock we were already staring at a 2-0 deficit.
POOR START, GOOD FINISH
The goals we conceded go down to nothing else but poor defensive play. Greece were all over the place at the back and in all honesty were lucky to concede only twice in the opening half hour. There was no cohesion between Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Avraam Papadopoulos in the center of defense and the midfield was giving the ball away with impressive ease. Diagonal through balls killed us as Paraguay counter-attacked with superb pace and Greece’s high defensive line was cruelly exposed.
It looked like we were good for a 3 or 4-nil defeat at that stage. Then something happened just after the 30 minute mark. We actually began playing football and showed that we have the ability to do something at the World Cup. Six chances were created by the lads in 15 minutes until the end of the half, opportunities that ranged from decent to fantastic. Greece even had the ball in the back of the net on 32 minutes however Dimitris Salpingidis’ close range effort was ruled out for offside.
Ninis, Samaras, and Alexandros Tziolis all came close to scoring in a time period where we really played Paraguay off the park. So, how did it all happen?
FINALLY WAKING UP
Watching the game on Greek television, the sideline announcer was heard saying that Rehhagel was demanding the players stop their unforced errors and that the players should involve Ninis more.
That is exactly what happened in the last quarter hour of the first half. Ninis became involved and the entire team began displaying a level of concentration and calmness that had been clearly lacking in their play. Samaras was beating defenders and giving off dangerous balls wide to Seitaridis, who himself gave Ninis two fantastic passes deep into the Paraguayan box that caused danger for their defense.
Ninis meanwhile not only looked confident and dangerous on the ball, however he was also making some great diagonal runs that were creating space and allowing us to penetrate deeper into the attacking third.
This period was in stark contrast to the first half hour which besides some runs by Samaras and Vasilis Torosidis, Greece were a stagnant and lifeless team with very little movement off the ball.
The second half can’t be analyzed too much with both managers making many changes which stripped the game of the decent rhythm it had in the first stanza. Greece continued their good play into the second half, but only for about 10 minutes before the game died off. It was a worrying sign though that we couldn’t create any clear-cut opportunities even as the game’s tempo dropped. Tired legs appeared to grip the players on both sides, with Paraguay still looking sharper and the odds on for another goal.
Well, what did this game tell us? For starters, we need Ninis on the pitch. I know I have been beaten a dead horse with this in this blog, but Ninis showed today that his ability to create chances either for himself or others means that his inclusion is a must.
Samaras also showed glimpses of why he is so vital to the side. He is one of the few players Greece possess who can take on defenders and offer the creativity that we so often lack. Occasionally he holds onto the ball for much too long, but his vision is key for this team. Plus, in the absence of Ioannis Amanatidis, Samaras will be the closest thing to a Jesus-look-a-like that we have in South Africa.
I thought Alexandros Tziolis also had another decent match in the defensive midfield position. Tziolis also threatened with a few long range strikes.
Pantelis Kapetanos is a limited center forward in my view, but what he lacks in skill he makes up for in fighting for the ball. Kapetanos emerged from this game with some credit and his ability to hold the ball up and play it simply to another teammate will help this team when he comes on.
Seitaridis’s comeback to reclaiming his right back position appears complete. He has been far from perfect in the last two friendlies, however he is slowly reaching back to the level he was before. He was involved in some great build-up play toward the end of the first half and if Greece are to attack with purpose at the World Cup the wing backs will need to get involved.
The rest of the backline looked shaky. Tzorvas made a couple of good saves, but the Panathinaikos keeper looks extremely vulnerable at balls played into the box. Kyrgiakos didn’t have his best game against Paraguay. Too often, as was the case with the second goal, he was pulled wide and out of the middle of the box where he excels in the aerial game. Papadopoulos also lost Santa Cruz on many occasions and he doesn’t yet exude confidence. In my mind both Vaggelis Moras and Sokratis Papastathopoulos will be on the pitch next to Kyrgiakos instead of Papadopoulos in South Africa.
Torosidis did well and though he too was sometimes found wanting on Paraguay's counters he did well enough defensively while also offering a few decent runs in attack. The question is whether he would be better used in the midfield where his effort and dynamism might be more beneficial to Greece.
The continuing below par displays by Kostas Katsouranis are worrying along with Giorgos Karagounis not looking to be at his best. It remains to be seen whether Rehhagel will go with this duo in the Greek midfield. Based on form it would be probably be wise not to play them together, though chances are that they both will start.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
With the Paraguay match in the books, the only thing left to do is head to South Africa and practice for about 10 days. This final period of training will be the most important. Greece’s success won’t have anything to do with friendly results, you can guarantee that. If we are to do well in South Africa it will have to do with being mentally prepared and acclimated to the local conditions and most importantly focusing 100% on the goal at hand.
The signs coming out of the friendlies against North Korea and Paraguay were not extremely encouraging, but perhaps that is a good thing. Now it is up to this national team to hear the alarm bells. This is a team that knows more than ever they need to work on many aspects of their all around play ahead of the opener against South Korea.
In that 15 minutes against Paraguay however, there was a glimmer of hope that with the right amount of pressure on the opposition, holding onto possession without silly mistakes, and with movement and imagination there could be something here to build on. As Greeks fans we have no choice but to cling on to that hope and ride it all the way to South Africa. If I’m not being too over-optimistic that is.
Is there reason to hope or are we doomed? Let me hear your views and comments!