With the Superleague in Greece coming to end shortly, Greece will be looking forward to the coming European Championship in Poland and Ukraine in June. Manager Fernando Santos will have several hard decisions to make as he finalizes his 23 men roster for the opener against Poland on June 8.
In recent friendlies against Romania and Belgium, Greece called up 30 players for Santos to look at. Players like Costas Fourtounis, Stefanos Kapinos — whom each earned their first call up to the national team — adds to a growing list of players who deserve a spot on the team.
Several players have already secured a spot on the team. With Greece being a team that is getting younger, whom Fernando Santos bring to bridge the gap will be interesting. Which veterans will make the squad, which players under 23 will add a new dimension to the team?
Here are my predictions for the roster:
Of Greece's 23 men roster, 11 spots have already been clinched.:
Defense: Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Vasilis Torosidis, Giannis Maniatis
Midfield: Captain Georgios Karagounis, Kostas Katsouranis, Sotiris Ninis
Forwards: Georgios Samaras, Dimitrios Salpagidis, Theofanis Gekas.
With the requirement of taking three goalies, it leaves nine spots up for grabs.
Possible additions to the back line include:
Avraam Papadopoulos, Jose Holebas (Olympiacos), Nikos Spyropoulos, Loukas Vyntra (Panathinaikos), Giannis Skondras (Atromitos), Vangelis Moras (Cesena), Stelios Malezas (PAOK), Georgios Tzavellas (Monaco) and Giannis Zaradoukas (Giannina)
Each has defender has played with the national team with the exception of Skondras, who has been anchoring the under 21 team that is attempting to qualify for Israel next year.
Skondras is the captain of his club and a main stay for the under-21 team. With them still in contention for a possible spot in the tournament final, Santos will probably pass him over.
Papadopoulos and Holebas have been very reliable for an Olympiacos team on the verge of another double in Greece. Papadopoulos is a center-back which gives him an added advantage with Maniatis move to the midfield. Holebas after being naturalized has already earned two caps for Greece. An excellent free kick taker makes him an easy choice.
Spyroupoulos has quietly had a very good year for Panathinaikos in a year in turmoil for the club. Spyropoulos is more offensive minded defender that is very adapt at crossing the ball.
Vyntra looks to be on the down side of his career. While still getting time at Panathinaikos , Vyntra has been on the bench for most games.
Zaradoukas until his transfer to Giannina was stuck on the bench at Olympiacos. The move didn't exactly make him a starter he did appear in 5 games for them.
Tzavellas is a solid defender who now is playing for Monaco after a year in Germany for Eintracht Frankfurt. Overall, Georgios has appeared for his club for twenty games.
Moras — after a short stint in the English Premier League with Swansea — moved to AC Cesena in Italy and has been a regular for the club since his transfer. He is no stranger to Serie A, where he played for Bologna for five years. A reliable veteran center-back is looking for a call up since June of 2010.
Melazas is the anchor of PAOK back line. Having guided PAOK to the knockout stages of Europa League, Melazas has appeared in all but two games for PAOK on the season. He is another center-back that will let you know he on the field
Giannis Fetfatzides (Olympiacos), Andreas Tatos (Atromitos), Kostas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern), Geogios Fotakis (PAOK), Grigoris Makos (AEK), Alexandros Tzolis (Monaco), Panagiotis Kone (Bologna), Vasilis Pliatsikas (MSV Duisburg), Thanos Petsos (Kaiserslautern).
When looking over the possible midfield additions to the national team, one thing pops into your mind immediately: youth. Of the players listed above, only one is at or above 30 (Fotakis). The rest are as young as 19 and as old of 26.
We also have a good mix of offensive and defensive midfielders in the group. Figure at least on defensive midfielder be chosen from either Makos, Petsos and Tzolis. Having Katsouranis and Maniatis to secure the back half of the midfield, there might not be a need to add another defensive midfielder.
Kostas Fortounis has an inside track for one of the final spots after getting his first national team cap against Belgium a few weeks back. After impressing on his club team, Kostas earned his first call up at 19.
Panagiotis Kone has found his way on the team, but a hard time getting any playing time under Santos. Kone is a gifted central midfielder who looks to pass before shooting.
Georgios Fotakis is the veteran of the group who scored the goal to get Greece into the European Championship against Georgia. Fotakis is a attacking midfielder who lead PAOK to the round of 32 in the Europa League.
Andreas Tatos has been the talk of the Super League, guiding Atromitos to third place in the league. Now at 21, the Olympiacos player has found his niche and expect big things from him moving forward.
Giannis Fetfatzides is Greece's "other" starlet after Sotiris Ninis. Having score on his national team debut, Fetfatzides added a pair of goals against Malta in European Qualifying. Unfortunately for him, his hasn't received a lot of playing time for Olympiacos this year. Featured a mere handful of games since November may have hurt his chances of making the squad.
Kostas Mitroglou (Atromitos), Stefanos Athanasiades (PAOK), Lazaros Christodopoulos (PAO), Nikos Lyberopoulos (AEK), Apostolos Vellios (Everton)
With three forwards already having locked down a position on the squad, who and how many other forwards make the team will be interesting.
Kostas Mitroglou is finally becoming the striker Olympiacos envisioned him to be. He is second in the Super League in goals with 15. Kostas has been on fire for the last two months scoring in every one of the games he has played in (eight goals in seven games).
Stefanos Athanasiades is tied for fourth in the Super League in goals at 10. Adding another four goals in Europe League Stefano has had impressive season. Stefano has appeared in just two game for Greece for limited minutes.
Lazaros Christodopoulos has earned his way back in to the national team with his play. After missing the first four months due to injury, 2012 started well for Lazaros. Even though he still hasn't hit the back of the net, he created plenty of chances for his teammates to score. His ability to play out wide as well in the middle gives Fernando Santos extra flexibility if needed.
Apostolos Viellios has scored three goals in the English Premier League at the age of 18. Playing mostly in the reserve squad, Apostolos is still among the top goal scorers for his club.
Nikos Lyberopoulos is another veteran presence that can be selected. Niko has scored six goals in 22 games for AEK this year. The veteran shows even at his age he still can get it done.
Alexander Tzorvas (Palermo), Orestis Karnezis (Panathinaikos), Stefanos Kapinos (Panathinaikos), Markos Vellidis (Aris), Kostas Halkias (PAOK), Giannis Arabatzis (AEK)
Alexander Tzorvas was the number one goalie in qualification and probably holds that spot as I write this. Tzorvas has help get Greece to the World Cup and to the European Championships. Having moved on to Palermo from PAOK, Alexander had a good start to the 2011, keeping Palermo in the top half of the table. His playing time disappeared with the return of Italian goalie Emiliano Viviano. Alexander has not appeared in a game since November.
Stefanos Kapino made a quick splash for Panathinaikos after debuting against Atromitos in relief of red-carded Orestis Karnezis. Stefano went 7-3-1 in his 11 games with impressive performance at Olympiacos and Xanthi where PAOK shouldn't have walked away with any points but did. Stefano is only 17 and has already earned his first cap against Romania.
Karnezis almost blew his chance of being a number one goalie for Panathinaikos after inheriting the position with Tzorvas move to Palermo. A costly red card allowed for Kapinos to show the future at the position. Orestis returned to the pitch in January and has never left it. Posting an incredible 10 shutout in a row, Karnezis earned a call up to the national team.
Markos Vellidis quietly has taken over as the number one goalie at Aris. Markos has kept Aris in the top half to the league and a shot at the playoffs for Europe. Vellidis is another young keeper with a good upside.
Kostas Halkias is another veteran goalie that has been around a long time. Halkias has been in and out of the PAOK lineup but came back with a outstanding performance against PAOK to set them going on a downward spiral. Halkias has been on European Championship team as a backup.
Giannis Arabatzis has kept AEK in a Europe spot even with the departures of most good players. His best game of the season was against Panathinaikos shutting them out and pretty much ending their chance of a tittle.
I would add these players to the first 11.
Goalies: Alexander Tzorvas, Orestis Karnezis and Stefano Kapino
Defenders: Avraam Papadopoulos, Jose Holebas, Nikos Spyropoulos, Stefanos Melezas
Midfielders: Andreas Tatos, Giorgios Fotakis, Kostas Fortunis,
Forwards: Kostas Mitroglou, Stefanos Athanasiadis
Barring any injury, the Greek roster looks pretty much set with maybe a few exceptions. Of the players that I'm predicting to be left off, a few stick out.
Giannis Fetfatzides's not making it is due to not playing. Having not seen the pitch for the most part of 2012, it's hard for me to add him to the squad. Fetfatzides will most likely be part of the national teams going forward, especially if the retirement of Kargounis and Katsouranis happens after the Euro.
Lazaros Christodolopoulos has shown that he can play with the big boys, but he has a hard time finding the back of the net. With Mitroglou setting the Greek League on fire, it's hard for Lazaros to crack this lineup.
Overall, the squad is a good mix of some veterans (Karagounis, Katsouranis, Gekas), players in their prime (Samaras, Torosides, Maniatis, Papastathopoulos) and youngsters (K. Papadoulos, Ninis, Fortounis) — whom are about to etch their names in national team history.
The team can advance out their group, but it will need Sotiris Ninis to be fit and to find scoring in open play. Samaras will need to create from the wing — along with Ninis — and allow Gekas, Mitroglou and Athanasiadis to finish.
The defensive midfield combination of Katsouranis and Maniatis are both reliable enough to slow down the opposition and quickly start a counter attack. Karagounis and Salpagidis both do a good job in coming back to help on defense when needed.
The back four of Holebas, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Sokratis Papastothopoulos and Vasilis Torosides is an excellent group. Torosides is one of the best at right backs in Europe, Sokraits is an imposing figure in the middle of defense. Kyriakos is developing into a great all around defender and Holebas' height and size makes it hard to get around him.
Look for Greece to rely on its defense to get out of the group stage. Neither Poland, Czech Republic are offensive juggernauts. Russia on the other hand is very capable offensively. Hopefully by then, Greece will have already secured a berth in the knockout round.