Italy’s current six-game unbeaten record is definitely nothing to brag about just yet, but at the same time it’s much better than what we’ve seen in recent years. The fact that Roberto Mancini’s team is built around a core of young and extremely talented players further boosts the growing optimism surrounding the Azzurri.
With Italy showing plenty of promise so far and securing comfortable wins against Finland and Liechtenstein in their two opening Euro 2020 qualifiers, the Nazionale are now set for a tricky fixture in Athens against Greece. Angelos Anastasiadis’ men currently sit second in the group with four points after their first two games, so the hosts will definitely fancy their chances against the young Italy team.
In fact,a closer look at the current Greece side shows that it’s quite similar to Mancini’s Italy, as many of the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams match.
Ever since Otto Rehhagel led the Hellenic nation to the Euro 2004 triumph, the Greeks have been known for their mean defence and tactical discipline. Although the level of the current Greece team is nowhere near the one they displayed in Portugal 15 years ago, their strengths haven’t changed much ever since.
The Greeks have conceded more than two goals just once in their last 28 games in all competitions, so their defence can still be considered the strongest link. This is logical, as arguably the team’s best players, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas, usually feature at the heart of their backline.
On the other hand, the Azzurri have kept five consecutive clean sheets and have conceded more than one goal just once in their last 11 games. This record shows, that although Mancini’s trying to impose a much more attacking game style, it is still built on the foundations of a strong defence.
However, just like Mancini, his Greek colleague Anastasiadis is trying to escape from the ultra-defensive gameplay that Greece often used in the past. Similar to Italy, the current Greek team contains a core of young players, who are trying to impose a possession-based and modern playing style.
In fact Greece averaged an impressive 61% ball possession during the UEFA Nations League group stage, which is even higher than Italy’s 59% in the same tournament. Of course, it should be clarified that Italy participated in League A - the highest division, and therefore faced much stronger opponents, as Greece featured in League C.
Greece also possess some interesting players in the attacking third, but just like the Nazionale, their biggest weakness is the lack of cutting edge in front of goal. Konstantinos Fortounis can be pointed out as the most dangerous man in this Greece side, as the Olimpiakos attacking midfielder already has two goals to his name in the current Euro qualifiers campaign.
Anastasiadis likes to play with the position of the 26-year-old, as he sometimes features in a typical trequartista position right behind the forwards, while on other occasions he is deployed as a second striker.
Stuttgart’s Anastasios Donis is interesting name in Greece’s attack, as the forward previously owned by Juventus scored his debut international goal against Liechtenstein in March and is expected to replace the injured Kostas Mitroglou tonight.
Mitroglou’s absence is a huge blow to Greece chances, as the Olympique Marseille owned forward not only gives a massive physical presence up top, but also adds some much-needed experience to the side.
Greece displayed their never-say-die attitude in the 2-2 against Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Anastasiadis’ men managed to comeback from a 2-0 deficit against the hosts. The result will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the Greeks’ confidence, as they will definitely fancy their chances against Italy in front of the passionate home crowd in Athens.
Although Mancini’s men are clear favourites, it remains to be seen how his team will handle the hostile atmosphere against the young and hungry Greek side, that has virtually the same strengths and weaknesses as Italy.