Things got a little heated on Twitter during the Greece match. For some reason, they are a metaphor, a stand-in for every team that plays in the Greek style. Fans of that style, who appreciate the tactical savvy behind it when it is used well, love to watch it in play. Those who don’t like it … well, that’s not harsh enough, they hate Greece for what they perceive is a negative approach to the game.
My own frustration with them dates to Euro 2004, which was won, completely unexpectedly, by Greece. My memory is that they were goal-less bores, but a look at their group stage gives the lie to that notion: they tied Portugal for most goals in the group. It was the knockout phase where Greece made their reputation, winning three straight 1-0 matches. But a closer look shows that they weren’t as negative as I remember. Against France, they were out-shot, 10-5, but all five of their attempts were on target, while only 40% of France’s were going for goal. France committed more fouls, 23-14 … corners were even, 3-3. It doesn’t read like an exciting match from those stats, but if blame is to be assigned, it would seem France was far more the culprit. The semi-final against the Czech Republic was more of the same, literally … the match went into extra time, with the only goal being scored in the 105th minute. Again, Greece took fewer shots but were more accurate (9 shots, 5 on target, 1 goal vs. the Czech’s 14 shots, 5 on target, 0 goals). Once again, what must have been frustration showed in the foul count: 16 for Greece, 27 for the Czechs.
As for the final, whatever my memories, the record doesn’t quite jibe with my thoughts. The UEFA site says, “Perhaps contrary to some expectations, the game was an attractive spectacle from the start, with both sides playing fluently.” Fouls were more equally distributed this time, but one more time, Greece scored a goal and their opponents did not.
But there are a couple of stats that give a sense of what some of us remember. Greece only managed one corner the entire match … Portugal had ten. The Portuguese got off 16 shots … the Greeks took 4. This happens in soccer … one team seems to dominate, but the other team hunkers down, plays solid defense, and makes their one chance at goal count. Take this description from UEFA, about the game’s only goal: “A surging right-wing run from Seitaridis won them a corner which Angelos Basinas swung over and there was Charisteas climbing above Costinha to head in from close range.”
Greece only got one corner in 90 minutes, and they turned it into the only goal of the match.
Well, those of us who crave goals found Greece’s success unfortunate. It was just a matter of taste preferences, but the feeling stuck. If I had rooted for Greece, it wouldn’t have mattered … when Spain won the 2010 World Cup, they lost their first match, 1-0, and they ran the knockout phase with four straight 1-0 wins … very Greek-like, you might say. But I didn’t care, because I wanted Spain to win. The entertainment value came from their victories. Greece suffered primarily because when they won 1-0, all I wanted was a lot of goals.
I got tangled in a Twitter argument about Greece during GRE-CIV. One section read:
G: “Americans that rip on Greece's style of soccer sound like English people who mock MLS.”
Me: “Wrong. Brits diss MLS for being poor quality. Americans diss Greece's national team for being boring. Not the same.”
S: (offering link to stats listing shots per game in this World Cup) “[Greece has] More shots per game than Chile or Costa Rica. How would you like to define it?”
Me: (checking the link) “Which makes them 25th out of 32 teams. Not wildly impressed.”
S: “You clearly have no interest in being convinced otherwise. No point in arguing.”
I’d like to think that last tweet was unfair, but I also know I am pigheaded about my taste preferences. I still don’t think being 25th out of 32 in any category is very good. But I do want to be convinced otherwise.
So, instead of just attaching links to match analysis as part of the next day’s post, I’m going to hunt them down now, at least the ones that are already up, and see what I can learn. Because a lot of people know more about this than I do, most especially including “S” above.
Here are a couple by Jeff Fogle. This first one is a bit hard for me to follow. He introduces “Shot Engine” (“Shot attempts pro-rated to 50% possession time”) and “Shot Engine with Shooting Accuracy”. His comments about Greece? “[T]hey do shoot quick those rare times they have the ball! 33 shots through three games with possession time at only 41.1%.” Then, taking the seven top teams in “shot engine”, he noted their shooting accuracy … the best shooters (Netherlands, Colombia, Brazil) have advanced, the worst shooters (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Japan) did not advance. Greece sits in the middle … the only thing that raises their shooting accuracy near the best teams is that last-second penalty kick.
He also offered a preliminary look at the game stats for GRE-CIV … preliminary because he has found ESPN’s instant stats to be unreliable. They show a fairly even match: Ivory Coast had a bit more possession (54-46), Greece took one more shot, the Ivory Coast had three more corners.
Checking those ESPN stats, I see that the Ivory Coast committed 23 fouls to Greece’s 13, and received all three of the yellow cards that were given.
Michael Cox at Zonal Marking gave his usual finely-detailed recap. Some quotes … the entire piece is illuminating and worth reading, these are just a few highlights.
“[T]his was a great Greek performance – more proactive than usual defensively, and featuring some great counter-attacking football”.
“Greece – needing to win the game, of course – were more ambitious than usual. There was a major difference in the approach in midfield, where Greece pressed much higher up and often won the ball in dangerous positions, before quickly getting men forward and attacking into the wide areas”.
“At 1-0 up, Fernando Santos flipped his midfield. Georgios Karagounis started as the deepest of the midfield triangle, but for the second half played at the top, with the other two mobile midfielders dropping back. This was interesting, and shows the change in approach – at the start Santos wanted two to press, with a playmaker just behind. When he knew Greece would be under pressure, he wanted his functional players sitting deeper and protecting the defence.”
“The game, and the group, essentially came down to a late penalty decision. It was somehow fitting for the game – the Ivorians had repeatedly fouled throughout”.