An e-mail to Soccernet (Greece revisited)

Mr. Raynor:

While I understand that you have to write about the talking points of the day (I have a degree in journalism, so I do know the score in that respect), I hope that you privately understand the fact that the Greece system is not and never will be the Holy Grail of Minnow Football...it's just too dependent on too many factors for it to be a trustworthy and dependable style of play.

To wit: Take a look at the pertinent statistics of Greece's Euro 2004 matches:

Final: Outshot 19-2, outshot on goal 10-1, corners were 10-1 Portugal, yellow cards 4-2 Greece, fouls 18-18, possession 54% Portugal.

Semifinal: Outshot 16-9, shots on goal tied 6-6, corners 8-5 Czechs, fouls 23-15 Czechs, yellow cards 3-3, possession 50-50.

Quarterfinals: Outshot 8-6, shots on goal 5-4 Greece, corners 3-3, yellow cards 2-2, fouls 22-13 France, possession 55% France

vs. Russia: Outshot 19-12, on goal 9-6 Russia, Fouls 18-13 Russia, yellow cards 6-2 Russia, corners 8-5 Greece, possession 66% Greece

vs. Spain: Outshot 13-7, on goal 6-4 Spain, fouls 19-16 Spain, yellow cards 5-2 Greece, corners 15-2 Spain possession 64% Spain

vs. Portugal: Outshot 18-5, on goal 8-3 Portugal, fouls 18-15 Greece, corners 10-3 Portugal, yellow cards 3-2 Greece, possession 50-50


Shots: 93-41 opponents
Shots on goal: 43-25 opponents
Corner kicks: 51-22 opponents
Fouls: 115-93 opponents
Yellow cards: 19-17 Greece
Possession (average of numbers given): 51% opponents

Of course, all of this is with the caveat that the sample size (6 games) is REALLY small, and the conclusions that you can draw from them aren't technically significant..but, hear me out.

Against non-Iberian opposition (remember, they both may as well have been the home team), the Greeks weren't exactly hanging on by their fingernails. They should have won the Russia game, the Czechs weren't the same without Pavel Nedved (I thought it was a tad bit unfair to mention him as one of the stifled parties when he was in there for what, 25 minutes?). They also were fouled against more than they committed (by a fairly healthy margin for a 6-game sample size) and the amount of yellow cards were almost the same. I mention that based on my theory that the two gameplans that have had the most success in recent memory is the French method (circa 1998-2000, of course) of overwhelming with sheer talent, or the 2003-04 FC Porto/1998 Croatia method that I like to call Cheating and Diving. Neither one was the case with the Greeks, so most of the non-Iberian factors seem to cancel each other out.

But, they did have to hold on by their fingernails on three occasions, and that's where the crux of my argument lies. Sure, playing the way the Greeks do gives teams of their skill level a better chance to defeat superior opposition...but, it's HARDLY a guarantee. I liken it to betting on red in roulette instead of a solitary number. But, think about this for a second...if Nikopolidis has ONE bad game (anywhere in the tournament, actually)in net, the Greeks are likely gone. If the defense concedes one more bad goal than they did, they're gone. If a hyperactive referee red-cards one guy, they're likely gone. If one ball bounces off a post and in instead of off a post and out, they're gone. If Portugal or Spain had looked into the possibility of putting one or two of their nine million shots on goal somewhere on net, the Greeks are gone. If the Czechs could have taken them to penalties, they'd have an equal chance of being gone as with staying...penalties are a crapshoot, and officially the worst way to end any sporting event ever (would you want to see rugby ties end with conversion-kicking contests? Well, actually...with Wilko in there, you'd be fine...for us in the States though, we wouldn't beat anyone that way). The point is, there's just too many pitfalls along the way for any side to accomplish this with any regularity. I guarantee you that anywhere between 8-10 teams are going to try this approach in the World Cup, and 7-9 of them are going to get their asses handed to them.

Your column mainly worries about this style spreading to the Premiership, which is a different story. Luck and bad games balance out over 38 matches far better than it does over 6 (or 3, if you go out in the first round). However, you mention that the relegation-threatened sides already do this, which would be the case had Greece lost every match 5-0, or if they win their next hundred games 1-0. So, there's no point in even mentioning the Boltons (of before) of the world. The thing is, many mid-table clashes in Premiership play end up looking like Greece vs. Greece anyway, simply because the gulf is widening between the haves and the have-nots in terms of simple skill level. And, that's not even necessarily a bad thing. If I hadn't discovered Arsenal 10 years or so ago, if I had just picked up on the sport this year or last year, Charlton Athletic would probably be my team...I love watching them play BECAUSE they're a well-drilled unit that fights for each other (and an Irish goalkeeeper doesn't hurt, me being Irish-American)...rather like Greece. I think it's great that sides like them can succeed in the fashion that they do, and that France has fallen on their face twice in the fashion that they did. If it was going to be a simple skill exhibition, why even invite Greece or Albania or San Marino to participate at all? I have this problem with American sports fans, and you guys are much more guilty of this yourselves than you claim to be...if you require every single match to be a 3-3 barnburner, you're watching the wrong sport...you have cricket, and there's plenty of scoring there. Enjoy.

I'd be shocked if you're still reading this, so I'll close here. Take it easy.

Sean Swift
New York City


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