Greece vs. Colombia: Key Selection Decisions for Fernando Santos
Greece versus Colombia kicks off the World Cup for Fernando Santos' men on Saturday in Belo Horizonte.
The fixture opens proceedings in Group C, and on paper Colombia are probably Greece's toughest opponents.
Ẁill Santos try to keep things tight against Jackson Martinez and company? Or will he spring a surprise and unleash his more creative players to try and grab an early group lead?
It will almost certainly be the former, but let's have some fun with the speculation before the serious business of football begins...
Greece have experimented with various combinations in defence during their pre-World Cup friendlies. Sokratis Papastathopoulos missed the friendly with Nigeria because of a bicep injury, and was not risked against Bolivia. It is not yet clear whether he will be fit to face Colombia, but Santos will certainly select him if he is available.
If he is not, then Kostas Manolas is likely to be partnered by either Vangelis Moras or even Kostas Katsouranis, who will be more likely to start in midfield. The veteran may add plenty of experience to the back four, but it seems an unlikely gamble against the pace of Colombia's front line.
At full-back Jose Holebas and Vasilis Torosidis seem the likeliest starters, barring injury.
Orestis Karnezis will almost certainly be preferred to Panaglotis Glykos in goal, although the latter did start the friendly against Nigeria. Karnezis reclaimed his position against Bolivia, and there seems little doubt that he is first choice.
Most of Santos' serious selection dilemmas involve his midfield.
Giorgos Karagounis and Katsouranis are unlikely to start together. Assuming he sticks with his preferred 4-3-3, Santos is likely to select three from Karagounis, Katsouranis, Giannis Maniatis and Alexandros Tziolis. In the friendlies, Katsouranis has been given the nod more often, barring the more experimental line-up that Santos chose against Nigeria.
Essentially it is a choice between the vast experience of Karagounis and the very slightly less vast experience of Katsouranis. Katsouranis is "only" 34 years old (although he turns 35 during the tournament) and Karagounis has recently turned 37. Karagounis has greater ability on the ball, but Katsouranis provides greater physical presence.
Playing Karagounis may be something of a signal that Santos intends Greece to see more of the ball, and play in a less reactive fashion, but that seems a long shot.
And speaking of long shots, the potential inclusion of the creative, attack-minded Panagiotis Kone in place of either Maniatis or Tziolis would represent a very clear signal of intent from Santos. Kone started and scored against Bolivia, and with goals at such a premium for Greece, perhaps Santos will take a gamble few are expecting.
Santos' key attacking dilemma comes in the form of his out-and-out striker. Assuming Georgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis are the likely starters in the wide positions, then Santos will have to decide whether to risk Kostas Mitroglou up front.
In many ways, it is hardly a risk, given that Mitroglou is the stand-out finisher in the Greek side. However, he has hardly played in the latter part of the season since his move to Fulham. Mitroglou has only started one of Greece's warm-up games, which was slightly surprising given his need for minutes on the pitch.
In his place Fanis Gekas has not exactly set the world alight, which is perhaps unsurprising given his scoring record for Greece, 24 goals in 72 appearances.
Even though Gekas has started two of the three friendlies, it would still represent something of a surprise if he was chosen ahead of Mitroglou, who still looks Greece's best hope of goals.