The 2-0 loss to South Korea in our 2010 World Cup opener today awoke the bad memories of the 1994 tournament. Greece looked awful for most of the match against a decent South Korean side.
I say decent because it was evident from my vantage point that while South Korea do have quality, this is for all intents and purposes a fairly limited side whose defensive frailties will face severe examination when it comes up against better sides than Greece.
I’m not here to talk about South Korea though and in all fairness congrats to them on a comfortable win. I am here to talk about Greece and once again we start the tournament off on the wrong foot and if we are to point fingers then they must be directed at Otto Rehhagel.
It is en vogue to blame the manager when results go against you, sometimes though it’s not the manager who is the one at fault. In regards to our loss against South Korea on Saturday, let’s be straight, 100% of the blame rests on the puzzling decisions made by boss Otto Rehhagel.
For starters, the decision to not field the likes of Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos instead going with Loukas Vyntra and Avraam Papadopoulos in defense was one that backfired tremendously. The logic of pairing Vyntra and Papadopoulos has to be questioned, these players have rarely played side by side in the center of the Greek backline. It was as though Rehhagel threw some players out there and hoped for the best. Hindsight is 20/20, but with Kyrgiakos’ towering presence, would we have given up that early goal which proved to be so vital.
I am not sure how many times I or many, many other Greeks fans must say this, but Angelos Charisteas is not the man to play on the right side of midfield or on the right of a three-pronged attack. Charisteas is a center forward whose main strength is to receive balls in the penalty box. The fact that he is continuosly picked regardless of his poor form or the fact that he is simply not suited to the position he is put in is bewildering to say the least.
Why Not Ninis?
Rehhagel’s substitutions were downright awful. Only Dimitris Salpingidis’s introduction gave any sort of spark. Pantelis Kapetanos was brought on for Charisteas and if yeah you guessed it, the 6ft. 3in Kapetanos, a run-of-the-mill center forward whose only business on the pitch should be to play as a target man and perhaps win some headers in the box was also played on the right. This was puzzling stuff, as was the introduction of Christos Patsatzoglu for Giorgos Karagounis at halftime.
This was a Greek side who was crying out for some life, some dynamism, some creative invention so then why on earth was Sotiris Ninis not brought into the fray? He is young, talented, and has the ability to create chances for the others around him and help the team set a tempo. This was exactly the type of match and situation where he could have given the team a lift. Shame on Rehhagel for not being brave enough to give youthful exuberance and talent a chance.
The Final Analysis
Our overall play was slow, predictable and downright amateurish. The frustrating thing is that this is a team capable of much more. It is now clear that instead of leading Greece to improvement, Rehhagel is keeping the team back. If you don’t know your players by now and who can offer what in what position after 9 years on the job, then thank you for your service, but it’s time for us to head down a new path.
There is a young Greek generation that is bursting with talent with the likes of Ninis, Papastathopoulos, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, Konstantinos Mitroglou and others who have either not been given the chance or quite simply not even been picked for this tournament. The preference for older, more experienced players is what helped lead to our demise in 1994 and 16 years later the lesson have not been learned.
This is another World Cup campaign where the potential doesn’t appear to be fulfilled and where the disappointment will be great once again. I wanted performances from this team full of heart and character, where we could build a foundation for future success even if it meant losing. Performances such as this against South Korea take Greek football backwards and the blame ironically goes to the man credited with taking the team forward in the last decade.
Rehhagel made mistakes that any average coach who knew this squad would not have made and in the process has all but finished our World Cup dream so early in the tournament. The Nigeria match now takes on the look of a final for us, however what I saw from Rehhagel and the players over 90 minutes was enough to turn this eternal optimist into the biggest pessimist. I don’t see how there is any way back for us now unless we produce a miracle performance against Nigeria.