Greek offense lacks firepower

The most worrying aspect of Greece’s performance against Belgium on Wednesday night was not so much the team’s 2-0 defeat as its poor offensive performance. For the sixth match in a row, Greece’s attack, always spare in its results even at the best of times, has failed to produce a goal. Not only that, its attacking approach was distinctly unorthodox, if not outright desperate, with long crosses aimed at forwards Angelos Charisteas and Zissis Vryzas usually failing to find their way. Only once did Greece threaten this way, but Vryzas’s header was deflected by the Belgian goalkeeper’s foot. Not that defense was much better: in last year’s Euro, Greek defenders had stifled Europe’s best. On Wednesday, as in other recent games, it was often exposed, and Belgium could have scored more than twice. The absence of central defender Traianos Dellas was felt, but even those on the field were nowhere near their best. This was as true of goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis as of backs Michalis Kapsis and Sotiris Kyrgiakos. The latter, at least, has an excuse. He has yet to find a team to play for next season, which makes his selection as a starter, like that of Angelos Bassinas, who has also not signed anywhere yet, all the more puzzling. Asked about these two players, German coach Otto Rehhagel did not exactly justify their inclusion and sounded rather disappointed in them. «I can’t do anything for the fact that they do not belong to a club. It would be nice if they could train. We will see who we will use from now on. Indeed, I would have liked them to have played more games,» Rehhagel said after the match. The Mpenza brothers, Emile and Mbo, scored Belgium’s goals within five minutes of each other. In the 19th minute, a mistake by Kyrgiakos left Emile alone with Nikopolidis. Five minutes later, Mbo rifled home a 20-meter volley, his first goal for Belgium. Nikopolidis twice denied Emile Penza, once on the stroke of halftime and again five minutes after the interval. Later, however, he made a wild foray outside the penalty area, where Penza stripped him of the ball. Fortunately, the ensuing shot was blocked by a Greek defender before it could cross the goal-line. «I know we can’t score easily. I have told my players to be very careful on defense and not to concede easy goals. That’s what we did in Portugal (at Euro 2004, which Greece won). Before the game, I told them that we must be economical in our game and avoid mistakes. We didn’t… When you play with the national team you cannot make such gifts to opponents,» Rehhagel said. Greece must find its form quickly ahead of the World Cup qualifier with Kazakhstan, which it must absolutely win. But it’s the following match against Denmark which will decide qualification at next year’s finals. Given Denmark’s 4-1 demolition of England on Wednesday, that match will be a very hard task.

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