Euro 2012: Expert v Expert Preview - Greece v Russia


Greek perspective: Nassos Stylianou

The equation for Greece could not be simpler in their last game of Group A against Russia. Win, and qualification is guaranteed; fail to do so, and go home.

Greece’s reputation as a tactically solid unit has crumbled in the opening two games of the tournament. With poor first half performances against Poland and the Czech Republic, surely Russia’s slick front line will be looking to capitalise on Greece’s defensive frailties early on.

Fernando Santos has hinted at changes to the Greek starting line up to freshen things up. Goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias – a mistake waiting to happen – will miss out through injury, much to the delight of many Greek fans.  Michalis Sifakis, will take his place. Jose Holebas’ defensive shortcomings – his poor positional play has contributed to all three goals Greece have conceded in the tournament – should see him replaced by Monaco’s Giorgos Tzavellas at left back.

After completing a ban for his harsh sending off in the opener against Poland, Sokratis Papastathopoulos will take his place alongside Kyriakos Papadopoulos at the back, allowing Kostas Katsouranis to slot back into midfield.

The crucial question is how Santos will choose to reinvigorate his attacking line. It really could be any three from Samaras, Gekas, Salpingidis, Ninis, Fortounis and Mitroglou, while even the as yet unused Fetfatzidis and Lyberopoulos could be given a chance to shine.

Santos insists his players have learnt their lesson and that fans will see a performance worthy of what we have come to expect from Greece: strong defensively, full of energy and able to grind out a result. Against a team with as much attacking flair and pace as Russia, though, it’s a big ask.

Score prediction: Russia 2-0 Greece

Two first half goals at 4.50; Russia 2-0 at 8.00; under 2.5 goals at 1.78.


Russian perspective: James Appell

Having been given a fair old fright against hosts Poland on Tuesday – and I don't just mean the fans who were beaten in the streets – Russia are banking on a comprehensive victory against Group A's bottom side Greece to give them momentum for the knock-out stages. Even by the admission of the side's fitness coach Raymond Verheijen, Russia are the "clear favourite", and the evidence from Greece's first matches suggests Russia have little to fear. Even before injuries to their first-choice goalkeeper and centre half, Dick Advocaat should have had this one down as a win.

Now that Greece look likely to resort to Michalis Sifakis – a man with only four league appearances under his belt this term for Aris – between the sticks, and are without injured Avraam Papadopoulos in defence, Russia striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov must be hoping he can finally break his hoodoo in front of goal. But the signs aren't necessarily good. Greece have looked at their weakest when trying to stop runners from wide areas breaching their back line, particularly against the Czechs, where wingers Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar grabbed the goals while striker Milan Baros barely got a look-in. That points to Alan Dzagoev and Andrey Arshavin as the Russians' main threat, and some smart money might go on both players finding the net.

If Greece are to find some comfort, it is in Russia's inability to deal with set plays. Against Poland, the six-foot-plus pairing of Ignashevich and Berezutsky nevertheless allowed a number of free headers inside their area. Sokratis Papastathopoulos, returning from suspension, should provide plenty of aerial threat, as long as Giorgios Karagounis can provide the ammunition. Nonetheless, it's hard to see the weary-looking Greeks getting anything from the game.

Score prediction: Russia 3-0 Greece

Russia 3-0 at 14.00; ‘No’ for both teams to score at 1.80; Arshavin to score at 3.80.