x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Euro 2012: Greece's struggle to stay in the Euro zone

Greece seem too weak to survive, either in a 17-nation single currency or a 16-team football tournament.

Greece have only one point and sit bottom of Group A and are unlikely to repeat their success of Euro 2004 in Poland and Ukraine. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP Photo
Greece have only one point and sit bottom of Group A and are unlikely to repeat their success of Euro 2004 in Poland and Ukraine. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP Photo

Scroll down international football's roll of honour and it is striking how many times a football team offered some succour to a beleaguered nation. People labouring under dictatorships, whether communist or fascist, have been granted a temporary relief from their daily troubles.

Which brings us to Greece. Financially imperilled, staring at the economic abyss, they could have looked to football for a little overdue escapism. Instead, the team are mirroring the country, threatening to be thrown out of the Euro - Euro 2012, in their case - prematurely and embarrassingly.

Even a couple of bailouts - their only goals were gifts from opposing keepers - have had little lasting benefit. They look doomed.

They face Group A's strongest side, Russia, knowing that even a win Saturday, unlikely as that sounds, may not be enough to take them through the weakest pool. Greece seem too weak to survive, either in a 17-nation single currency or a 16-team football tournament.

Perhaps, in a final comparison to their economy, mistakes have been accompanied by misfortune. The dismissal of Sokratis Papastathopoulos against Poland was harsh, to say the least, while a disallowed goal by Giorgos Fotakis in the defeat to the Czech Republic was controversial. Being unlucky and awful is a terrible combination.

Elimination will cap a joyless eight years for the national side. Ever since their extraordinary and utterly unexpected victory at Euro 2004, Greece have been hoping in vain for a reprise. The formula has stayed the same, but the results have been very different. In its own way, that illustrates how unlikely their triumph in Portugal was.

Fernando Santos, the coach, is still trying the 2004 recipe of his predecessor Otto Rehhagel, but with inferior ingredients. Playing defensive football with error-prone defenders rarely works, as Greece are discovering.

Santos lost his preferred centre-back pairing in a damaging first 45 minutes of the opening game and, while Papastathopoulos is available again after suspension, there has been a knock-on effect.

Kostas Katsouranis, who was supposed to anchor the midfield, has been pressed into emergency service at the back but has been missed in his usual role. The left-back Jose Holebas, meanwhile, has been a liability. Opponents have been eager to exploit his poor positional sense. Born in Germany to a Uruguayan mother, Holebas was qualified to represent either country. It is apparent why both ignored him before he was given a Greek passport and a call-up. Yet whereas the team of 2004 were so organised that weak links were camouflaged, the side of 2012 are more slipshod. Flaws are highlighted.

There are plenty of them. Opponents have been more vibrant, more dynamic and more inventive. Only Dimitris Salpingidis, in his catalytic cameo against Poland, has genuinely impressed. His intervention earned Greece their solitary point. But, supposedly chasing an equaliser against the Czechs, they resorted to a host of aimless long balls. There was little craft, few ideas to unlock an average Czech defence.

All of which bodes ill tonight. Technically, Russia are much the group's outstanding team. They exhibit fluid movement in an aesthetically pleasing short-passing game. They have one of the tournament's top scorers, in Alan Dzagoev, and several of its standout individuals. The strength, however, is in the collective. They have an understanding borne of familiarity, with seven of their probable starters lining up together for Zenit St Petersburg.

So the prognosis for Greece is not good. It may almost be a merciful release when the final whistle blows tonight, concluding a sorry campaign for a struggling country. This will almost certainly mark the final game at a major tournament for a group of veterans, including the survivors of the heady days of 2004, Katsouranis and captain Giorgos Karagounis, who tonight will equal his country's appearance record of 120 matches.

Strip the midfield of its experienced axis and an era would end. Poorer for their absence, Greece would have to start again from scratch. It is a theme. In different circumstances, many of their compatriots may have to do likewise.

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