13 June 2014
Squad stability has been a hallmark of Jose Pekerman’s tenure, with few changes expected from the side that strolled through qualifying.
Blessed with flair, balance and an exciting mix of attacking options, the coach favours a loose 4-2-2-2 system that seeks to dominate possession and push teams on the back foot. Whether overawing opposition defences via the raw pace of wingbacks Pablo Armero and Camilo Zuniga, or by exploiting the tricks and decisive passes of David Rodriguez, Macnelly Torres or Juan Cuadrado, Colombia are most comfortable when dictating the flow of the game. Pekerman didn’t make wholesale changes to the sterile and ponderous side he inherited in January 2012, but instead gradually tweaked the squad in terms of fine-tuning both personnel and tactics.
It is, however, surely time for the curtain to fall on the central defensive partnership of Mario Yepes (38) and Luis Perea (35), with both players looking as old as their years suggest. But, as yet, neither Cristian Zapata nor Carlos Valdes have convinced as alternatives and defensive midfielder Edwin Valenciawill continue to drop back and shore up the yawning gaps. Alongside Valencia, Pekerman needs to decide whether he prefers a similarly minded midfielder likeCarlos Sanchez, or instead play somebody like Abel Aguilar, Aldo Leao Ramirez or Fredy Guarin in a more mixed role.
Pekerman’s two-year building exercise could face its most rigorous examination without leading light Falcao if he fails to make the trip. How to seamlessly integrate potential replacements Jackson Martinez or Carlos Bacca – who both failed to score a single goal in qualifying – into the side in such a short time will be one of the coach’s biggest challenges. Falcao and Teofilo Gutierrez were the indisputable first-choice strike pair. But without Falcao, it will be two from Gutierrez, Bacca and Martinez.
Behind the strikers Rodriguez is a certainty to start on the left while Cuadrado is strong on the right. Torres was an important player in qualifying but could be on the bench because of a lack of speed.
The alternative to two strikers is to go for just one main forward supported by three creative players. Victor Ibarbo could move onto the left wing, with Rodriguez moving into a more central position.
For almost a decade and a half the Greek national team has been set in its ways: functional, defensively orientated, hard to beat, adept at making the most of its limited attacking opportunities and sticking to tried-and-tested personnel. Although not particularly pretty, the system has proved to be very effective.
Santos will almost certainly keep the same successful shape that enabled Greece to qualify for the finals. His flexible 4-3-3 system can easily be adapted to that of his opponent, whether they are 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1 or even 4-4-2.
The first objective is to create a compact defensive unit, which is traditionally Greece’s greatest strength – as seen in their successful Euro 2004 campaign. Dimitris Siovas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos will keep things tight in central defence, with Kostas Manolas pushing for a start. Santos likes his team to attack more than Greek national sides in the past, so Vasilis Torosidis and Jose Holebas will be expected to surge forward down the flanks.
Midfield could be a problem for Santos, with veterans Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis – who were part of the Euro 2004-winning squad – finding it hard to play the full 90 minutes these days, so Alexandros Tziolis is likely to start, along with Giannis Maniatis.
Up front, Kostas Mitroglou – if he is passed fit – will make all the difference, with support from Dimitris Salpingidis and Giorgos Samaras.
Santos sometimes finds it hard to come up with an alternative strategy, and his team can lack fluidity and control and regularly overdo the long ball.
When a game begins to ebb away from Greece, Santos will turn to the skilful attacking types he does not completely trust, such as Sotiris Ninis, Giannis Fetfatzidis, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Panagiotis Kone.
To give the side more dynamism, a 4-2-3-1 may be used, with Olympiakos midfield holding duo of Maniatis and Andreas Samaris offering more “legs” than Tziolis, Karagounis or Katsouranis. Fetfatzidis as a “false nine” is another option.