After Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic, Greece still control their own destiny. With a win over Russia on Saturday, they will be on to the knockout stage of the Euro 2012. A loss and Greece will join Ireland and be packing their bags home.
After an opening-round draw against Poland, the Greeks stumbled against a Czech Republic team that desperately needed a win. Scoring two goals in the first six minutes of the game, the Czechs quickly jumped out to a lead they wouldn't give back. Even with Greece scoring off a mistake by Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, they didn't look like they would threaten the Czech goal again.
Greece and Russia are familiar foes, having grouped together for three straight Euro Championships. Russia won in 2004 2-1, the only loss for Greece before shocking the world. In 2008, Greece would lose again to Russia, this time 1-0, and would be eliminated from the 2008 Euro Cup.
The two countries played again this year in a friendly in November just before the 2012 draw took place. The game finished in a 1-1 draw in a game that was quite defensive in the first half but opened up in the second. Russia scored two minutes into the game off a deflection that left goalie Alexandros Tzorvas with nothing to do. The Greeks would equalize in the second half through Kostas Katsouranis, but neither team could find a winner.
Here are five quick changes coach Fernando Santos can make that will enable Greece to beat Russia.
Greece have a great 90 minutes of soccer. The only problem is that it has come in two games. Greece's lackluster starts have left them almost for dead. Against Poland, Greece didn't begin to show anything until 30 minutes into the game. The problem with that is they were down 1-0, and it could have been worse.
In the match against the Czech Republic, the opening six minutes were all the Czechs needed to defeat Greece. The Greeks lacked any ability to do anything against the Czech and resulted into long ball feeds to their forwards. The Czech dominated the midfield and possession for the first half. The second half wasn't much better, as the Greeks couldn't build a constant attack.
If the Greeks show up from the start of the game, they can defeat Russia. They can't afford early lapses in concentration against Russia because it will cost them their tournament hopes. Greece have conceded all three goals against them in the first 18 minutes of the game. A good start from the Greeks will give them a better shot a winning.
Jose Holebas is a good fullback, but he is having a horrible tournament so far. He has been partially to blame for all three goals against Greece. For the first 15 minutes, the Poles constantly attacked him, trying to hit a cross to Robert Lewandowski. After a near miss, the Poles struck in the 17 minutes to give themselves a 1-0 lead. While the goal wasn't totally his fault, as he was left alone with no midfield support, he couldn't stop the cross that lead to the goal.
Against the Czech Republic, Holebas played his way to the bench, giving up the middle to left-footed Petr Jiracek, who took a great through ball from Tomas Rosicky and slotted it by Kostas Chalkias to give the Czech a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the game. To make things worse, in the six minutes, Holebas was left ball-watching as Theodor Selassie made an overlapping run right behind him, and his pass found Vaclav Pilar to make it 2-0 at the sixth minute.
Holebas looks out of sync with his teammates. That shouldn't have been a problem in Game 1 as he was next to fellow club teammates Giannis Maniatis and Avraam Papadopoulos. Saturday's game has no room for mistakes. Fernando Santos must turn to Giorgios Tzavellas and hope that he can stop the bleeding.
For Greece to win, they will need big games from their two important veterans, Kostas Katsouranis and Georgios Karagounis. Katsouranis will be returning to his defensive midfield role after filling in at center-back for the game against Czech Republic. Kostas will need to stop Andrey Arshavin if Greece is going to win.
Georgios Karagounis does look himself so far in this tournament. Playing a more defensive role has hurt Greece. Moving back to a more of an attacking midfield position will benefit the Greek, who will look to attack the soft underbelly of the Russian defense.
The Panathinaikos teammates will need to lead this team by example like they did in 2004 and against Ukraine in the World Cup playoff game. After taking the lead against Ukraine, the Greeks held firm against the relentless wave of attacks and won 1-0 to advance to South Africa.
Two injuries, two bad bookings leading to a red card and a goal disallowed for an arm being offside is how Greece's tournament has gone so far. While it all went right for the Greeks in 2004, it has all gone wrong for them in 2012.
Losing your starting goalie and one of your center-backs is no way to start the first two games of the tournament. Adding to the misery is the horrible job the ref did in the first game that cost them a player to a red card suspension and not giving Greece a penalty after a Polish defender handled the ball in the box.
Georgios Fotakis thought he had scored to cut the Czechs' lead in half with a header but was ruled offside. While the goal was ruled "correctly" as offside, we have seen that count in other games.
Greece will need to create their own luck, as so far nothing has gone their way. A big game from one of their star players would help go along way to get out of the group stage. In baseball, people will tell you that a player is due for something positive after a string of no luck; hopefully that is the same in soccer.
Theofanis Gekas hasn't given much to the lineup, and neither has Georgios Samaras. It's time for Greece to go young and get a spark that this team desperately needs. With Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos already in the starting lineup, Ioannis Fetfatzidis and Kostas Mitroglou should join them there as well.
So far Greece's offense have been a no show. Just five chances created in two games is not enough to threaten anyone. Dimitris Salpagidis, who provided a spark in Game 1, wasn't on in Game 2. Sotiris Ninis who started in Game 1, didn't do much of anything.
After not getting anything from these forwards, it's time to give a chance to Mitroglou and Fetfatzidis. Mitroglou is a strong physical striker who can use his strength in the air or on the ground. Kostas has found playing time hard under Santos, but he has a few Champions League goals to his credit.
Fetfatzidis has been given the nickname of "Greek Messi" for his small stature and left foot. While not the goal scorer like Messi, Fetfatzidis' speed and dribbling reminds me of him. He too has struggled to get playing time, but with the failures of other before him, he is a wild card that Greece can use.
In order for Greece to pull the upset against Russia, they will need a complete team game—90 minutes from start to finish. The key to the game will be how both Maniatis and Katsouranis control Andrey Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev. If the Greeks are able to keep control of these two players, an upset is very probable.
I believe the first team to score will win this game. Greece can score against this Russian team. The Russian back line gave up plenty of chances to Czech Republic and Poland only for them not to find the finishing touch.
Russia, knowing they can advance with just a tie, will play close to the vest, not wanting to expose their defense to a counter attack from the Greeks.
Georgios Karagounis will come up big and will this team to victory to break Greece's cap record in their quarterfinal game vs the Group A winner.
Greece 1, Russia 0