WCQ Preview: Greece versus Latvia
Greece has a rightfully earned reputation for playing dull, conservative football, but in this group that also features Switzerland (leading with 17 points) and Israel (fourth, with 12 points), the 2004 European Champions should be doing better than a tie for second place with Latvia. Thanks to goal differential, they have the playoff spot, and with a win on Saturday in Athens, they can secure the position, by with the Switz in Luxembourg before hosting Israel on Wednesday, it looks like Greece’s inability to get a point against the group leaders will relegate them to the playoff.
That assumes they can beat Latvia, something that is not a given. Latvia is unbeaten in their last four qualifiers: two wins over Luxembourg and four points in two matches (including a road victory) again Israel. The team seems to be playing better than the side that lost 2-0 to the Greeks in Riga during Round 2 (in September of 2008), and with a home draw against the Switz they’ve accomplished something their higher rated opponents have not.
Greece’s problems go beyond their inability to beat Switzerland. In the last round, they drew with Moldova, who to that point had only getting points from Luxembourg.
The state of the Greek team might best be exemplified by their most recent, head-scratching call-ups. Former Atlético Madrid defender Giourkas Seitaridis, who has not featured for Panathinaikos since his move back home, has been recalled, as has Vangelis Mantzios, who has not been capped in almost a year but is been brought in to reinforce against the injury to striker Angelos Charisteas.
Despite the confusion, Greece should have enough to defeat a Latvian team that has done their program proud during this challenge for the playoff spot. The upset in Israel in particular forced people to notice the squad whose members are still predominantly playing in Latvia’s domestic league.
Greece should have enough quality to win this and secure second place, and because of the late decision to seed the eight playoff qualifiers by FIFA ranking, Greece will get a relatively favorable match-up coming out of the seeded pot (even if they would be the one seed every unseeded nation will be hoping to draw).
Prediction: Greece, 1-0