4 Things Greece Coach Fernando Santos Should Test in Friendly vs. Portugal
As Greece coach Fernando Santos prepares to take on Portugal in the first of Greece's pre-World Cup friendlies, he knows his side face a stern test.
Given that the result is secondary, and Greece are clearly second favourites to a Portugal side led by a Cristiano Ronaldo buoyed by Real Madrid's Champions League success, it is a fine opportunity for experimentation.
Here are four things Santos should try. Well, could try. Let's not be presumptuous.
Trying the Karagounis-Free Midfield
Santos is an exponent of the 4-3-3. The back four and front three are probably fairly predictable but options remain in the centre of the park.
Santos is likely to choose three from among Giannis Maniatis, Alexandros Tziolis, Kostas Katsouranis and Giorgos Karagounis.
Karagounis is a stalwart of the Greek side. He has represented his country 132 times at the senior level. However, whilst his ball-retention remains a strength, his lack of pace could cause problems—understandably, given his age—particularly if he finds himself up against Yaya Toure.
Whichever three play, the shape of the midfield may still vary—all four players are capable of playing a role shielding the defenders, operating as a box-to-box player, or forming the tip of the spear ahead of two deeper-lying colleagues.
Santos could try the Karagounis-free option for this game in order to see how the team respond without their leader.
Testing Mitroglou's Fitness
From finally feeling as if they had found an answer to their lack of goals, Greece will now be hoping that half a season on the fringes of the Fulham side will not leave Mitroglou too rusty.
The friendlies are a key means of testing Mitroglou's form and fitness, and if necessary, playing him back into confidence.
Finding a Role for Kone and Fetfatzidis
Panagiotis Kone and Giannis Fetfatzidis are two players both capable of conjuring something special for Greece. However, there is no natural place for them in Santos' 4-3-3, assuming his front three will be Georgios Samaras on the left, Mitroglou through the middle and Dimitris Salpingidis on the right.
Perhaps Kone's potential for artistry could be preferred to Salpingidis' industry for 45 minutes. Options will be needed during the World Cup, so getting the team used to them now could serve Santos well.
Setting Papastathopoulos to Man-Mark Cristiano Ronaldo
In the 2010 World Cup, Greece faced Argentina, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos—now of Borussia Dortmund—was set the seemingly unenviable task of man-marking Lionel Messi.
He did an extremely effective job, and given Greece's group-stage opponents, it could be worth Santos asking the defender to dust off his man-marking skills on Ronaldo.
Against Cote D'Ivoire, if Yaya Toure plays at the tip of a diamond, Papastathopoulos could again help his midfield colleagues keep the Manchester City man quiet.
Against Japan, he could do the same to Shinji Kagawa. Against Colombia, he could be asked to do a job on either Jackson Martinez or Falcao, depending on the latter's fitness.
If Ronaldo plays wide for Portugal, this is probably not worth pursuing. If he plays centrally, it may be. Given what an excellent job Papastathopoulos did against Messi, it is surely worth giving him the chance to complete the set.