GREECE in Group of Life:El Mechanico,Olympiacos’ hot cake,the five Prassinis & misfiring strikers

We continue our countdown to Euro 2012 with Fernando Santos’ Ethniki.The Portuguese’s Greek team will play in a major competition without  Otto Rehhagel in charge for the first time since 1994. Fernando Santos, as any of his successors, will constantly be compared with King Otto. The Portuguese started well: his side has only lost once in 19 games. Hellenic Football Federation has already offered a new contract to Santos, without waiting for the Euro 2012 outcome.Greece spent most of their history in relative obscurity, having participated only twice in the final tournaments of the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship, in 1994 and 1980 respectively, until UEFA Euro 2004, when Greece became European champions in only their second participation in the tournament.

Greece topped their group in qualification, amassing 24 points from a possible 30 available.Greece is the least scoring team that qualified for Euro 2012 with just 14 goals in ten games.

None of the first-choice strikers have impressed recently – not Samaras, not Theofanis Gekas, not even PAOK’s Dimitris Salpingidis, the most reliable striker in recent years.

Santos even had to resort to Charisteas for the final two games, which paid him off as the hero of 2004 netted a crucial late goal in Georgia.He needs 4 more goals to equal Nikos Anastopoulos’ record (29 goals).

The defence is the strongest department of the team, as demonstrated by only five goals conceded in the ten qualifying games. Olympiacos’ right back Vasilis Torosidis is easily the best element in the squad, flanking two great central defenders, the 20-year-old revelation Kyriakos Papadopoulos from Schalke and the fiery Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen.The task of finishing first in qualifying is never an easy one and Greece had to bypass Croatia, Israel, Latvia, Georgia and Malta along the way.

Greece is ranked 14th in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking,three places behind Russia but well ahead of 26th place Czech Republic and 65th placed Poland.They are the first team ever to beat both the hosts and defending champions in the same championship and they were also the first defending European champions not to earn a single point in the next European Championship.

Talking about Greece it is impossible to avoid comparisons to 2004 and superstitions. They started the opening match against the hosts and played their last group match against Russia. That story ended with the most prolific success of Greek football or the greatest upset in European football history.

Greece will kick off their European Championships in Poland and Ukraine against one of the tournament co-hosts—Poland.The match will take place at the National Stadium in Warsaw on June 8th.

Poland

Most of the meetings between Poland and Greece have been international friendlies,with the last one ending in a 0-0 draw early last year.The last competitive game took place in April 1987, where the Greeks won 1-0 in a European Championship qualification match.Poland beat Greece 1-0 in a friendly in 2004,a month before Greece became champions of Europe.

Czech Republic

Greece have met the Czech Republic 4 times.The Greeks have never lost to Czech Republic,winning 2 out  of the 4 games.

Russia

Greece has won only once in 10 games against Russia.

DISASTER| The Mighty Have Fallen

Greece began their EURO 2008 qualifying campaign with victories over Moldova, Norway and Bosnia-Herzegovina.Greece lost their fourth game 4–1 against Turkey in Athens but the team went on to win away to Malta, with the only goal coming in the 66th minute from an Basinas penalty, Hungary and Moldova at home and drew 2–2 away to Norway. The draw in Oslo was followed by a 3–2 home win against Bosnia-Herzegovina and a 1–0 away win to Turkey, securing its presence to the Euro 2008 finals. In the last two matches, Greece hammered Malta 5–0 in Athens and defeated Hungary 2-1, finishing first in their group with a total of 31 points, the most points gained among any group.

Greece were drawn in Group D along with Sweden, Spain, and Russia. In preparation for the tournament, Greece defeated Portugal 2–1 on 26 March 2008, in a repeat of the Euro 2004 opening and final match.

In the tournament finals, however, the Greek team lost all three games and scored only one goal. Greece underperformed in the opening match against Sweden and lost 2–0. They tried to recover in the match against Russia, but lost 1–0. Having already been eliminated, the Greek team tried their chances against already qualified Spain, but also lost 2–1, becoming the first defending champion not to earn a single point in the next European Championship.

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Greece’s 6 out of 7 were narrow wins, including the one in Malta with the only goal scored in the 94th minute. No matter what, now the team is there and everything will start over again.

TOPSCORERS

2-Giannis Fetfatzidis, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Vasilis Torosidis
1 – Angelos Charisteas, Georgios Fotakis, Theofanis Gekas,
Giorgos Karagounis, Sotiris Ninis, Dimitrios Salpingidis,Georgios Samaras, Nikos Spyropoulos

GROUP F
GP GD PTS
1 Greece (Q) 10 7 3 0 9 24
2 Croatia (Q) 10 7 1 2 11 22
3 Israel 10 5 1 4 2 16
4 Latvia 10 3 2 5 -3 11
5 Georgia 10 2 4 4 -2 10
6 Malta 10 0 1 9 -17 1

PAST RECORD IN THE EUROS 

1960

Did not qualify

1988

Did not qualify

1964

Did not qualify

1992

Did not qualify

1968

Did not qualify

1996

Did not qualify

1972

Did not qualify

2000

Did not qualify

1976

Did not qualify

2004

Winners

1980

Group stage

2008

Group stage

1984

Did not qualify

2012

Qualified as group winners

THE ENGINEER OF THE PENTA | Fernando Santos

”I have to admit that the draw was a good one for us considering the teams which have been drawn together in other groups. Nevertheless, we can’t afford to take our group lightly because we face some strong opposition in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia. We’ll need to be careful of teams like Lithuania and Latvia too.”-Fernando Santos, Greece coach on 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw.

Greek Football League’s best coach of the decade,Fernando Manuel Fernandes da Costa Santos, has been in Greece since 2001.He’s worked with AEK Athens,Panathinaikos and PAOK Salonika but had stints with Sporting Lisbon and Benfica in between.

EURO 2012 will be the former FC Porto coach’s first international tournament. “El Mechanico”,a former  Marítimo and Estoril player ended his professional football career at a very young age.The 57 year old coach was just 21 when he quit football to concentrate on his studies.Santos has  a Diploma in Electrical and Telecommunications Engineering.He practised his profession for a while and went into full time coaching. El Mechanico had worked briefly as a maintenance engineer at a hotel.

The Portuguese and his assistant Leonidas Vokolos have had an impressive start to international football , his side has only lost once in 19 games.

In September 2007, Santos returned to Greece, signing a three-year contract for PAOK in the city of Thessaloniki. There, joining forces with team chairman and captain of the Golden Euro 2004 Team, Thodoris Zagorakis, he contributed in the so called “Three Year Plan” for the resurgence of PAOK. Effectively fulfilling his promise, he led PAOK to the 2nd position of the Greek Super-League in 2009–2010 after giving hell to all other competitors for the title. During a press conference on 19 May 2010 the PAOK F.C. coach announced his intention to leave the historical Greek club, despite his chance to lead the team in the 2010–2011 Champions’ League Tournament.

Unlike his predecessor,Santos used 32 players in the qualifiers,9 players including  18-year-old Panathinaikos goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino and his teammate Orestis Karnezis made their debuts.Santos wants to see new players to prepare a team for the World Cup and the next EUROs.

The four Group A coaches (L-R) Czech Republic's manager Michal Bilek, Russia's manager Dick Advocaat, Greece's manager Fernando Santos and Poland's manager Franciszek Smuda pose after the draw ceremony of the Euro 2012 football championships at the National Palace of Arts in Kiev on December 2, 2011.
The four Group A coaches (L-R) Czech Republic’s manager Michal Bilek, Russia’s manager Dick Advocaat, Greece’s manager Fernando Santos and Poland’s manager Franciszek Smuda pose after the draw ceremony of the Euro 2012 football championships at the National Palace of Arts in Kiev on December 2, 2011.
OLYMPIACOS VS PANATHINAIKOS|Greece’s eternal rivalry

Greece is also home to one of world football’s most theatrical of rivalries.2012 Greek champions Olympiacos of Piraeus and Panathinaikos of Athens are the two best-supported teams in the land.

A large number of their international team play for the two major domestic teams.However, let’s not forget PAOK stars like Salpigidis and AEK Athens captain Kafes contribution.

Olympiacos defenders Giannis Maniatis,Avraam Papadopoulos and José Holebas will form the core of Santos team.Not forgetting qualifiers topscorer Giannis Fetfatzidis.

Panathinaikos goalkeeping trio Kapino,Kotsolis and Orestis Karnezis are all fighting for a place in Santos final 23.Striker Lazaros Christodoulopoulos will definitely make the trip to Poland and Ukraine.

Some of the more famous Greek names on show will be Panathinaikos Ninis, Giorgos Karagounis, Kostas Katsouranis and Olympiacos Vasilis Torosidis .

STAR MAN| Vasilis Torosidis

The team is improving game by game and can continue to do so, but we are on track.-Fernando Santos on Vassilis Torosidis’ second-half strike which earned Greece three vital points against Latvia.


Olympiacos skipper Torosidis (26) has attracted the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs since establishing himself as a regular for both Olympiakos and Greece, with Roma,Manchester United Liverpool and Bayern Munich all credited with an interest over the last few years as their need for a versatile player at the back became more pressing.

A right full back or wing back at the club, Torosidis is frequently used on the left flank when on national duty. In the 2009/10 season he was also deployed in midfield by Olympiacos.

Torosidis made his senior debut for Skoda Xanthi at the age of 17.After impressing  at Xanthi, he joined in 2007.Olympiacos F.C.He signed a renewal with Olympiacos F.C. in the summer of 2009 that will expire on 31 June 2013 (with buy out fee 7 million euros).

Torosidis made his international debut in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier against Turkey and became Greece’s first choice left-back, while playing regularly on the right side at his club. Following the qualifiers, Torosidis was selected in the Greek squad for Euro 2008. He scored his first international goal in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg.The Olympiacos defender, who won the 2010 Greek Football Player of the Year award, has already made history for the national team, scoring the winning goal in his side’s 2-1 victory over Nigeria at the World Cup in South Africa – Greece’s first ever win at a World Cup.The defender has scored 5 goals in 43 caps for Greece.

The defender is one of Greece’s most decorated players.He has won the Greece Superleague with Olympiacos on 5 occasions from 2007 to 2012,only lost out to Pana in the 2009/10 season.Torosidis has also won the Greek Cup three times and the  Greek Super Cup once in 2007.

THE PRASSINI | Famous Five

The Prassini (The Greens) have the satisfaction of being the only Greek side ever to reach the final of the UEFA European Champion Clubs’ Cup (the forerunner of the Champions League), that achievement coming in 1971.

The Prassini’s famous five continue to impress in Greece.The great hope of Greek soccer, Sotiris Ninis, should help open up the opposing defences after recovering from a nasty leg fracture sustained last September in Tel Aviv. Behind the attacking midfielder operate the two survivors from 2004, the team’s boss and midfield general Karagounis and the main ball-winner Kostas Katsouranis.Spiropoulos and Vyntra have also been solid at the back.

 LEADER| Giorgos Karagounis

”Statistics are valid. We didn’t lose in any of  last 15 games because this team showed strong character, dedication and we work hard. We are patient, waiting for opponent mistakes and then punishing them.Once we score, we try to focus on defense, giving attackers little room for maneuvering.-Giorgos Karagounisbefore EURO 2012 qualifier with Georgia


Greece skipper Georgios Karagounis will be remembered for scoring the opening goal at EURO 2004 against Portugal,a game the eventual champions won 2-1 against Portugal.He was suspended for the final against the same opponents three weeks later as Greece captured the European title in Lisbon.
The midfielder has collected an impressive array of honours during his career at the top. Aside from being part of the team that won UEFA EURO 2004, he has also won Greek league twice and cup winners’ medals with Panathinaikos, and won the Coppa Italia with Inter Milan in 2005 and a Portuguese Super Cup with Benfica.
The veteran midfielder will be one of the first names on the team sheet for Greece at Euro 2012, having featured in every one of his side’s matches in qualifying.While regulars of the national team down the years, including Euro 2004 hero Charisteas, have been unable to hold down their places since Rehhagel’s departure, Greece’s second-highest capped player remains a key figure under Santos, who he played for previously at Panathinaikos and Benfica.He needs just five caps to equal EURO 2004 winning skipper Zagorakis’ 120 caps.He has scored 8 goals for his national side.

Karagounis started his professional career as an 18-year-old with Panathinaikos in 1995. He moved to Apollon Smirnis in 1996, where he would turn in some fine displays over the next two years.Pana brought him back to Athens  in 1998 where he became a key player for the Greens.Though he did not win a major domestic honour with the Greens over the next five years, he shone for the club in the UEFA Champions League in the 2000/2001 and 2001/02 seasons.He has a good record against English sides scoring a memorable goal from a  free-kick against Manchester United and later he scored against Arsenal.

The veteran  can strike the ball from distance and is deadly from set-pieces, as he showed against Manchester United in the group phase of the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League.

He was the captain of the Greece side that finished runners-up to Spain at the 1998 UEFA Under-21 Championship, he made his senior debut the following year, against El Salvador, and soon became a regular in Otto Rehhagel’s side.

Inter Milan lured him away in 2003, becoming only the second Greek to play for the Italian club (after Grigoris Georgatos) .He featured rarely for the Nerazzurri.

After two years at the San Siro he moved on to Benfica for another two seasons.He helped  Fernando Santos team as they reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.The following season, he rejoined Panathinaikos. Pulling on the captain’s armband, Karagounis inspired his side to the Greek Super League title in his first season back, taking to two the number of championships he has won with Pana.

He has remained a consistent performer for his country, starting every one of Greece’s 12 qualifying matches for UEFA EURO 2008, scoring both goals in a March 2008 friendly against Portugal (2-1) and featuring regularly at the finals in Austria and Switzerland.

He also captained Greece  at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, their second appearance at the world finals.

Karagounis realises his team has to make the most of the few attacking resources at its disposal because they play a defensive game.

SERVANT | Kostas Katsouranis

Even if Fernando Santos or Karagounis were not here, I still would have joined. Benfica to me is one of Europe’s top clubs and they proved that in the UEFA Champions League. I am here to achieve that same objective and joining Benfica can also help my international career.”- Katsouranis after he signed a four-year contract with Benfica in 2006.

Katsouranis made his international debut for Greece in 2003 against Sweden and scored his first goal against Kazakhstan in a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier. Katsouranis was one of the key factors in Greece’s triumph at the UEFA Euro 2004.He was also a regular for Greece in their unsuccessful 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Katsouranis became one of Greece’s impact players in their UEFA Euro 2008 qualifiers in which he helped Greece qualify for the finals and have a chance to retain their crown. Their UEFA Euro 2008 campaign resulted in poor fashion as Greece failed to pick up a point. Katsouranis has captained Greece on several occasions and was selected for his country in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification. Together with Angelos Charisteas, Giourkas Seitaridis, Georgios Karagounis, Kostas Chalkias who all participated in Greece’s Euro 2004 triumph, he led Greece to a 2–1 win against Nigeria, its first win in a World Cup tournament.

Although categorised as a defensive midfielder, Kostas Katsouranis can lay claim to an impressive goalscoring record − thanks largely to a firm, accurate long-range shot. A veteran of Greece’s UEFA EURO 2004 triumph with 89 caps , he is a fundamental figure in Fernando Santos’s team.

He spent six seasons with home-town club Panachaiki GC, five of them in the top flight, before joining AEK Athens FC in 2002 (after talks with rivals Olympiacos FC and Panathinaikos FC broke down).He was only 17 years old when he debuted in the 1996–97 season for the Patras-based club Panachaiki.

Former AEK Athens president Chrysostomos Psomiadis convinced the promising midfielder to sign a three-year contract with AEK Athens.

Katsouranis was an integral part of the club. The 2004–05 season would prove to be one Katsouranis’ finest seasons with the club, as he scored 10 times in 28 appearances from the defensive midfielder spot, leading the club in a hard battle for the title. AEK managed to finish third when many had expected a mid-table performance.

In the 2005–06 season, Katsouranis led the club to a second place finish in the league, which brought them into the UEFA Champions League. At the end of the season, manager Fernando Santos was sacked and Katsouranis wanted to leave to a bigger club and further his career abroad. He then signed with SL Benfica of Portugal, managed by Fernando Santos, for a fee of around €2 million plus the proceeds of friendly match in Athens between the two clubs.

He won no championships or cups with AEK in his four-year spell, but found the net 29 times in the league and played frequently in Europe, scoring in the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid CF (2-2 at Santiago Bernabéu).

He went into UEFA EURO 2004 with just six caps − all in friendlies − but emerged as a mainstay in Otto Rehhagel’s triumphant team, starting every match after coming on as a substitute in the opening game against Portugal; he has barely missed an important fixture for his country since, starting all three games at both UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Katsouranis signed a four-year contract with SL Benfica in June 2006, joining is ex-manager in Fernando Santos and fellow countryman Giorgos Karagounis.An ever-present in back-to-back UEFA Champions League campaigns, he scored ten goals in 80 Liga appearances for the Lisbon club before returning to Greece in 2009 and Panathinaikos FC.He won the Portuguese League Cup: 2008–09

On 2 March 2009, Katsouranis was named “Benfica Player of the Year”Katsouranis  won the domestic double in his first season; was the team’s second top scorer (behind Djibril Cissé) with eight goals in the Super League triumph.

He started nine of Greece’s ten UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, taking his number of caps to 89; scored his ninth international goal on his 88th appearance, a November 2011 friendly against Russia in Piraeus.


BORN WITH TALENT, BLIGHTED BY INJURY |  Sotiris Ninis

It’s a dream come true and an extra motivation to work even harder and improve myself.-Ninis, after his first Greece cap

Most English fans remember Angelos Charisteas,the man who almost denied the Three Lions automatic qualification to the 2002 FIFA World Cup.Zagorakis,Stelios and Basinas,European champions with Greece in 2004,were also famous for their stints with English sides.

But it was in September 2009 that English took notice of another Greek talent.English fans will remember him for scoring the equalizer for Greece against the England U21 team in a game that ended 1–1.It was Sotiris Ninis night.

Sotiris Ninis is regarded as one of Greece’s best young players. He’s an exciting, agile attacking midfielder who became the youngest ever player to be chosen captain of his club, at the age of 18 years and 125 days.

The Panathinaikos Albania-born attacking midfielder (22) has been considered as the next national star since he led his club to a long-awaited league and cup double in 2010.He normally plays centrally as a creative midfielder, but can also play on the right.It is those gifts that led to him being fast-tracked through the national youth set-up, and within a year of joining the U-19s he was promoted to the full team for a May 2008 friendly against neighbouring Cyprus.News of his inclusion aroused great excitement in the Greek media, with Ninis living up to his billing by scoring in Greece’s 2-0 win.

He scored the opening goal of the game from a  Dimitris Salpigidis assist and thus became the youngest ever scorer and debutant for Greece , breaking Kostas Eleftherakis’ record.Yet despite making a flawless debut, Greece’s hottest prospect missed out on a place at UEFA EURO 2008 when he was omitted from Greece’s squad.

The Panathinaikos starlet, who has played for the Green’s since joining their youth set-up from Apollon Smyrnis in 2003, has been watched by hundreds of scouts from European powerhouses with Arsenal, Manchester United and Real Madrid all tracking the 22-year-old in recent seasons.

He featured in the team of the tournament at the 2007 UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals, where Greece finished runners-up to Spain.He was selected by UEFA as the player of the tournament.

Having just turned 20, Sotiris Ninis was the youngest member of the Greece squad at the 2010 FIFA World Cup .Ninis made limited appearances for Greece at South Africa. He was used twice, as a substitute in the matches against Nigeria and Argentina before Greece was eliminated in the Group stages.

Ninis has broken several records. As well as being the youngest Greek player to appear in a European competition against RC Lens in France, he is  the youngest player to captain his club, Panathinaikos. He became the second youngest player ever to wear the club’s shirt in a league match against  Egaleo at the end of 2006, at the age of sixteen (the first was Kostas Antoniou −15 years old- in 1978) when Panathinaikos coach Víctor Muñoz gave him his debut .Ninis was named the man of the match. Ninis was also the youngest player ever to win The Greek Young Footballer of the Year when he won it  in 2007 ,aged only 17.

The following season was marred by injuries and non-selection. He made just one appearance from the bench that season.With his fitness problems seemingly behind him, the richly talented youngster made his presence increasingly felt as Panathinaikos surged to the Greek Super League title last season.Henk ten Cate featured Ninis regularly in the 2008/09 season after being so long on the sidelines.He repaid his coach’s faith in him with some splendid performances.

The following season he also picked up a Greek Super League winners’ medal with Pana.He also won the Greek Cup that season.He was fantastic that season but it was in February 2010 that Ninis played his best game in Pana colours. It was against AS Roma in the knockout stage (Round of 32) of the UEFA Europa League. Ninis  helped his team win 3-2 in Greece.No one saw Pana getting a result in Rome after AS Roma’s 2 away goals in Greece.

They proved everyone wrong in Rome by beating the Italians 3-2.Ninis won a penalty, which Djibril Cisse converted and the Greek young attacking midfielder scored from 28 meters and Djibril Ciss scored his second of th game from a Ninis assist.The Greek side eliminated the Italians 6-4 on aggregate.He went on to win the Greek Young Footballer of the year that season,his second in three years.It is little wonder some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs are monitoring his speedy progress.

Ninis made his UEFA Champions League debut in September 2010 against FC Barcelona and was fully integrated into the national team by new head coach Fernando Santos, making seven appearances in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying.On 2 September 2011, Ninis scored the winning goal in a qualifying match for the UEFA Euro 2012 against Israel, in Tel Aviv. That was his second goal in 18 caps for Greece.As a result of the victory, Greece was virtually assured a berth at Poland and Ukraine.


Ninis has had his progress halted by injuries, the most recent blow coming in September 2011 when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament while on national team duty.He has missed a greater part of the season and only made a return from his injury in March.

Besides injury worries and having to live up to the hype, the  takeover of Panathinaikos by Saudi Prince Sultan al-Saud has thrown his own future into even more doubt.The Saudi Prince is planning to sign star players so that his ‘Galacticos’ can compete with Europe and the rest of the world.

Despite becoming a fans favourite at the Athens-based side, Ninis’ contract runs out this year prompting fresh speculation that he could be preparing himself for a big-money move to a European side.

Sotiris Ninis has struggled to live up to the hype but remains a highly gifted young footballer who could yet light up UEFA EURO 2012 with his tricks, dribbles and powerful long-range shooting.

BUCCANEERING LEFT BACK |  Nikolaos Spiropoulos

“Spyropoulos for the right side” too, during the pre-season. ”- former Panathinaikos FC coach  Henk Ten Cate praised the defender’s versatility.

Nikolaos Spiropoulos (28) has gained a reputation as a left wing-back for both club and country, using his strength and speed to great effect in defence and attack.He is a ‘Dani Alves’ type of player.Nikos Spyropoulos has featured regularly in European club competition for Panathinaikos FC over the past four years and looks set for a third successive major tournament appearance for Greece, having represented his country at UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

His all-round skills were much admired by his former coach at Panathinaikos, Henk ten Cate, who signed him in during the 2008.After some impressive displays during the second half of 07–08 season, Spyropoulos has started the 08–09 season as the main left back for Panathinaikos FC. Henk Ten Cate, the current manager has praised his ability by asking a “Spyropoulos for the right side” too, during the pre-season. Spyropoulos main assets are his speed, stamina and the ability to go forward whenever possible. Due to a clause he is not able to play against his previous team Panionios for two years after his transfer to Panathinaikos FC.

Prior to arriving in the Greek capital, the flying full-back learned his trade at PAS Giannina, spending three seasons there.He won promotion to the Greek Super League in his first season before suffering two successive relegations with the club before making 51 appearances for Panionios which includes five appearances in the UEFA Cup, making his European debut in a 3-1 home win against Udinese and then joining Pana in the middle of 2008,, along with his teammates, Alexandros Tziolis and Evangelos Mantzios.

He made his debut for Greece just before leaving Panionios. He had to wait until November 2007 for his first taste of international action, a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying match against Malta.The Greeks won 5-0.He also made one appearance at the main tournament,a 2-1 defeat by Spain;it was a similar story two years later in South Africa,his one appearance coming as a half-time substitute in Greece’s final match,a 2-0 loss to Argentina.

Spyropoulos main assets are his speed, stamina and the ability to go forward whenever possible. Due to a clause he was not able to play against his previous team Panionios for two years after his transfer to Panathinaikos FC.

He won the Greek double with Panathinaikos in 2009/10, his first club honours, and enjoyed another new experience in Greece’s opening UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier when he scored his first international goal to salvage a 1-1 home draw with Georgia.

Though Greece’s European defence ended in failure at Austria and Switzerland, the Panathinaikos full-back has held on to his place in the side, becoming a regular first-choice since then.

ATHLETE |  Loukas Vyntra

“After Panathinaikos’ head coach Henk ten Cate sacked, gave an interview in a Greek sports web site and he asked “If you get hired by a big european club which player from Panathinaikos F.C. would you recommend to your new club?” and his answer was “Only one! Loukas Vyntra. He can play either as a right or left back, he can also play as a centre back, he is quick, he has good aerial abilities, with a good technique for a defender, he is good in tactics. What else can a manager ask from him? He has a tough mind because he plays many years under continuous, unfair criticism“.

An athletic right-back who can also operate on the opposite flank or in the centre of defence, Loukas Vyntra has spent the past few seasons putting in consistent performances for Panathinaikos.Born in former Czechoslovakia to a Czech father and Greek mother, Loukas Vyntra will face the Czech Republic for a place in the quarter finals.He is one of the few members of the Greece squad to hail from outside the country.

The 31-year-old defender is an experienced international and he was a familiar face in Otto Rehhagel’s line-ups, playing as a libero at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004, the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 and UEFA EURO 2008. He did not play a part, however, in his country’s finest hour, their UEFA EURO win at Portugal 2004.He made his debut for Greece in June 2005, against Ukraine, just prior to competing at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Germany.

Vyntra embarked on his club career in 1998 at Almopos Aridaia before spending a season at second-tier Greek outfit Paniliakos and another at Pontioi Verias.

In 2001 he returned to Paniliakos, enjoying fairly regular first-team football with the Pirgos club over the next three years.He remained with the Pirgos club until January 2004.

It was then that the mighty Panathinaikos came in for him when, following promotion to the top flight and an excellent first half of campaign with Paniliakos.Vyntra was a minor contributor to the Greens’ 2003/04 double triumph, he became a regular in the first XI the following campaign.He scored two memorable goals during the 2004/2005 Season, one against Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League and one against FC Sevilla in the UEFA Cup.

Vyntra has been used mainly as a right back for Panathinaikos and more recently he has moved to the centre of the defence. He also played some games as a left back in 2008. Besides his versatility, he is a quite fast defender, good in close marking and tackling.

He received the most critisicm for Panathinaikos’ recent inability to win titles. Finding greater consistency and making light of the criticism that sometimes came his way from the supporters, he gained the confidence of the various coaches that occupied the Pana hotseat.

He won his first trophy at the end of the 2009/10 season when the Athens side ended Olympiakos’s recent domination of the Greek Super League.He enjoyed a particularly memorable season in 2009/10, helping Panathinaikos to the domestic double and reaching 50 games in European competition.

He made two appearances in the UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers and one in the main tournament against Spain.He also appeared in all three matches for Greece at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.A UEFA Champions League ever-present in 2010/11 − his fourth campaign in the competition − he made five appearances for Greece in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying.He has amassed 42 caps for Greece.

Vyntra’s  has consistently led his teammates in all fitness tests and has never suffered a single injury in his career.The EURO 2012 group game against Czech Republic will be the right stage for Vyntra to score his first international goal.

PRESSURE  | Georgios Samaras

“I was at Bolton when Georgios signed for Manchester City. We lived near to each other and became close friends. He didn’t need me to help him settle in English football because he’d already played in Holland.His father had played football and was a big influence on him so with his father behind him, as well as his own strong mentality, he didn’t need my help.Of course, there was pressure on him when he signed for City. There was a huge price tag on his head – £6m was a lot for a very young player.But I think it was positive pressure, Georgios didn’t let it affect him.”- former Greece teammate Stelios Giannakopoulos

Celtic’s Georgios Samaras (27) was forced out of Manchester City when the weight of a £6million price tag became too heavy on his young shoulders.

Although eligible to play for Australia,Samaras chose to represent his country of birth, Greece, and made his debut in 2006. His father, Ioannis was born in Melbourne, but moved to Greece, at the age of 13, and had a successful football career, playing for OFI Crete, Panathinaikos, and the Greek national team.He has become a regular in the Greek side since then, earning over 50 caps and scoring 7 goals.He has represented his country at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

Samaras started his career at Crete, before moving on to Eredivisie side Heerenveen in 2001.Samaras joined OFI Crete when he was 10. Samaras left for Dutch club Heerenveen in 2001.

Samaras broke into the Heerenveen team during the 2002/03 season, still aged only 18. He scored three goals in his first four appearances, all of which were from the bench.The next season Samaras, along with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, scored a hat-trick as relegation candidates RBC Roosendaal were defeated 7–1.Samaras scored 25 goals in 88 appearances for Heerenveen.

Samaras was just 21 years old when Stuart Pearce signed him in 2006 from Dutch club Heerenveen as the most expensive Greek player ever.But after scoring 12 goals in two years, Samaras was sent on loan to Celtic and has never looked back.During this time he helped the club win the title for a third season in a row. Celtic signed him at the end of the loan spell and since moving to Glasgow he has won the 2007–08 Scottish Premier League,2008–09 Scottish League Cup, 2010–11 Scottish Cup as well as the 2011-12 Scottish Premier League. Samaras also won the SPL Player of the Month award in September 2008.

Samaras is now one of Neil Lennon’s key men.He was criticised for not scoring enough goals.Now he is more mature as a player. He knows what to do and how to do it on the pitch. He has improved so much at Celtic.

Samaras hasn’t always been a favourite with the Parkhead fans and at various times in his four years at the club he looked destined for the exit door.But he’s stuck it out and under Lennon, he’s become an integral part of the side were crowned champions this season.

He’s become an iconic figure in Greece due to his performances for Celtic and the national side.He made his debut for Greece just a week after his 21st birthday in which he scored the only goal of the game.

Samaras also played against Ukraine in a World Cup Qualifying play-off, setting up the only goal of the tie, passing to Dimitris Salpigidis who slotted home to give Greece a 1–0 win and a place in the 2010 World Cup Finals.He played in all three group matches.Despite Greece’s 2–1 win over Nigeria, they failed to proceed to the knockout stage of the World Cup, due to 2–0 losses to both South Korea and Argentina.Samaras has been linked with moves to Rennes and Palermo in the last two transfer windows.

The people in Greece love him as they see him as one of our most talented players who has always performed well for the national team.EURO 2018 will be the perfect stage to return the fanslove and put Greece economic crises behind them.

A big shout out to my good friend Kwabena Oduro Senior (@kobbysnr ).

This  article was written by Nana Abiri (@NOKA88)

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