International Friendly Preview: Greece - Italy

What: International Friendly
Who: Greece v Italy
When: Wednesday November 19, 2008 - 21:00 CET
Where: Karaiskaki Stadium, Athens
The World Champions and the 2004 European champions do battle in Athens this week, in an international friendly match.

Greeks Keen To Continue Solid Form

Greece currently sit atop of Group 2 in their quest to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. They have nine points from their opening four matches, in a group that puts them up against the likes of Israel, Switzerland and Latvia.

The Greeks comfortably accounted for Luxemburg in their opening qualifier by a 3-0 score line, before recording their second successive victory on the road in a matter of days, by triumphing at Latvia 2-0, thanks to a brace by Theofanis Gekas.

This was followed by a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Moldova, and their only blemish of the qualifying stage thus far, as they were humbled by Switzerland 2-1, with Blaise N’Kufo getting the winner for the visitors 13 minutes from time.

This week they face a much tougher opponent in Italy, and their coach Otto Rehhagel has selected a youthful squad for their clash with the World Champions.

The 20-year-old Ergotelis striker Vassilis Koutsianikoulis has received his first call-up for the Greeks, along with the 25-year-old Vangelis Mantzios, and midfielder Sotiris Ninis, 18, who both play for Panathinaikos. In addition to this, the coach has also selected the 20-year-old AEK Athens defender Vassilis Pliatsikas.

Greece will be without some of their key players for this contest, as FC Nuremburg striker Angelos Charisteas and the Atletico Madrid defender Giourkas Seitaridis will both miss through injury, whilst Celtic striker Georgios Samaras and Eintracht Frankfurt forward Ioannis Amanatidis have also been forced to sit out the match in Athens.

The Greeks may be youthful and lacking a little in experience, however expect them to lift their spirits when they do battle with the World Champions.

Italians To Mix It Up In Athens

A different look Italian squad has arrived in Athens, ahead of their enticing international friendly match with Greece this Wednesday, with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Del Piero all out for various reasons.

The most interesting story surrounds the latter however, as the Azzurri boss Marcello Lippi has stayed true to his word and left the Juventus captain behind, despite his outstanding individual performances for the Bianconeri in recent times.

Lippi has made it clear that he wants to give new players an opportunity at international level, and that Del Piero will make it back into the squad if his form permits in the future.

The Juventus number 10 managed to score an impressive three out of four goals in his side’s two matches against Real Madrid in the Champions League recently, and so he will be bitterly disappointed not to be given the opportunity to prove himself against the Greeks this week.

Meanwhile, forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Simone Pepe were recalled, joining Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella, whilst the Udinese midfielder Gaetano D'Agostino received his first call-up.

Buffon, as well as Marco Amelia, will both miss the trip through injury, and so Gianluca Curci and Morgan De Sanctis have been selected as their replacements, however it is still unknown as to which keeper will get the nod this week.

The Italians have participated in four World Cup qualifiers of their own, in Group 8 of the qualifying campaign, a group that they cucrrently lead by on 10 points, three ahead of their nearest rivals Ireland, who have a game in hand.


FORM GUIDE

Greece

October 15 v Switzerland (H)       LOST 1-2
October 11 v Moldova (H)          WON 3-0
September 10 v Latvia (A)           WON 2-0
September 6 v Luxemburg (A)     WON 3-0
August 20 v Slovakia (A)             WON 2-0

Italy

October 15 v Montenegro (H)      WON 2-1
October 11 v Bulgaria (A)            DREW 0-0
September 10 v Georgia (H)        WON 2-0
September 6 v Cyprus (A)           WON 2-1
August 20 v Austria (A)                DREW 2-2

TEAM NEWS

Greece:

As previously mentioned, Greek coach Otto Rehhagel has picked a slightly inexperienced squad for this friendly match with Italy, as nine of his twenty squad members have played less than ten times for the country. This is partly due to the injuries to both Charisteas and Seitaridis, and the withdrawals of Samaras and Amanatidis from the squad.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Costas Chalkias (PAOK), Alexandros Tzorvas (Panathinaikos).

Defenders: Traianos Dellas (Anorthosis Famagusta), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Genoa), Vasilis Torosidis (Olympiakos), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos), Loukas Vyntra (Panathinaikos), Nikos Spyropoulos (Panathinaikos).

Midfielders: Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos), Costas Katsouranis (Benfica), Angelos Basinas (AEK Athens), Vassilis Pliatsikas (AEK Athens), Alexandros Tziolis (Panathinaikos), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos), Christos Patsatzoglou (Olympiakos).

Forwards: Vassilis Koutsianikoulis (Ergotelis), Vangelis Mantzios (Panathinaikos), Fanis Gekas (Bayer Leverkusen), Nikos Liberopoulos (Eintracht Frankfurt), Dimitris Salpigidis (Panathinaikos).

Possible Starting XI – (4-4-2): Chalkias; Dellas, Vyntra, Torosidis, Papastathopoulos; Patsatzoglou, Karagounis, Basinas, Katsouranis; Liberopoulos, Gekas

Italy:

The Italians are obviously without some of their stars for this clash as well, with the likes of Buffon, Zambrotta, Pirlo and Del Piero all missing due to various reasons. Almost one half of Lippi’s squad have earned ten or less caps for the country, meaning that they all will be desperate to prove themselves if given the opportunity. The Azzurri boss is all but certain to employ a 4-3-3 formation; however it remains to be seen who is played in the forward trident, as the likes of Toni, Gilardino, Iaquinta and co, fight for position.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Gianluca Curci (Siena), Morgan De Sanctis (Galatasaray).

Defenders: Daniele Bonera (AC Milan), Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Andrea Dossena (Liverpool), Alessandro Gamberini (Fiorentina), Fabio Grosso (Lyon), Nicola Legrottaglie (Juventus).

Midfielders: Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Gaetano D'Agostino (Udinese), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Simone Perrotta (AS Roma).

Forwards: Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Fabio Quagliarella (Udinese), Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal), Luca Toni (Bayern Munich).

Possible Starting XI – (4-3-3): Curci; Bonera, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Grosso; Montolivo, De Rossi, Gattuso; Rossi, Toni, Iaquinta.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Greece – Fanis Gekas:
In the absence of Angelos Charisteas, Gekas will be required to lead from the front in attack this week, as he looks to continue his good form for the national team. He has found the back of the net on three occasions thus far in the World Cup qualifiers, and also managed a brace in his country’s last friendly match with Slovakia back in August. Form is on the attacker’s side; however he will have a tough task ahead of him, against arguably the best defence in the world.

Italy – Daniele De Rossi: The Roman midfielder has been in phenomenal touch this season, despite his side’s poor positioning in the standings. De Rossi has been outstanding in all aspects of the game, on a consistent basis, and has even brought this form into his country’s World Cup qualifiers. The Roman icon grabbed a spectacular brace against Georgia in September, to lead his side to a well deserved 2-0 victory. He will be hoping for a repeat of this form against the Greeks this week in Athens.


PREDICTION

It promises to be an enthralling battle between the Greeks and the Italians, as the nations certainly do share a strong rivalry, meaning that neither will want to lose on the night. It should be a tight contest, in front of a hostile Greek crowd, which should give the hosts the edge. The World Champions will be the more confident however; as history states that they have been defeated just once in 12 previous matches between these two nations. Irrespective of history, however, the Italians are a class above, and will be too strong for their undermanned opponents this week.

Greece 0-2 Italy

Adrian Del Monte