Greece already knocked out of the play-offs
No stakes in Athens this Tuesday: France is already qualified for Euro 2024 and Greece knows that it will have to go through the play-offs. 3rd in Group B (4 wins and 3 losses), they can no longer catch up with the Netherlands. They are now looking forward to the draw for the play-offs on Thursday to find out who will face them in the semi-finals of Path C, which also includes Georgia, Kazakhstan and Luxembourg. The play-offs will not take place until March 2024.
- Euro 2024: Qualifying standings
- Euro 2024: Qualifying schedule and results
A slow decline in sport since Euro 2004
Almost 20 years ago, Greece was on top of Europe to everyone's surprise, beating Portugal in the final of Euro 2004 in Lisbon (1-0). It was the beginning of a promising era, with honest campaigns at Euro 2012 (quarter-finals) and the 2014 World Cup (round of 8). But since then, Greece has not played a single major tournament. "There has never been good infrastructure, and with the economic crisis, many investments in football have been cut off," Giorgos Karagounis told So Foot last June.
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The most capped player in the history of the national team (139 matches), European champion in 2004, Karagounis notes that "it's very difficult to build, much easier to destroy". In February 2022, Greece appointed Uruguayan Gustavo Poyet, former coach of Bordeaux (2018), as coach. Failing to get out of the next play-offs, where their strongest opponent on paper will be Georgia (76th in the FIFA rankings), would be a bitter failure.
Who are its star players?
If Greece, the 51st nation in the world, is in the sporting situation that has been described, it is also because it does not have any big names. If we had to name a star, it would be Liverpool's replacement left-back, Kostas Tsimikas, seen against Toulouse in the Europa Conference League on November 9 (TFC won 3-2). The 27-year-old won the FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield with the Reds in 2022.
Kostas Tsimikas with Liverpool in October 2023. David Blunsden / Action Plus / Panoramic
For the rest, we can think of the captain of the national team, the attacking midfielder Anastasios Bakasetas (Basaksehir), the West Ham defender Kostas Mavropanos or the centre-forward Vangelis Pavlidis, not necessarily a starter with Greece despite his 13 goals in 11 Dutch league games, at AZ Alkmaar.
Why the nickname "pirate ship"?
They are called "Piratiko", or "the pirate ship". Rarely used, this nickname of the Greek team was born in 2004, after its victory in the opening match of the Euro against Portugal, the host country (1-2). At the opening ceremony, a replica of a large ship was displayed in reference to Portugal's maritime heritage.
Greece's surprise victory inspired journalists who called the players pirates, and the team pirates. A nickname that would have fallen into oblivion if Greece had not made it past the first round of the Euro. But they never ceased to amaze Europe until they met Portugal in the final, for another victory against the run of play.
Greece, bad memory for France
You haven't heard the last of Euro 2004 in this article. The France team of Thuram, Zidane and Henry, crowned four years earlier, fell from high against the Greece of Angelos Charisteas, only scorer of the head in the quarter-finals (0-1). It is the only clash between the two nations outside of friendly and qualifying matches, and the only defeat for Les Bleus in 9 matches (7 wins, one draw).
Last June, France won after a sluggish performance (1-0) on a penalty from Kylian Mbappé. However, the trip to Athens on Tuesday is not a common one. Les Bleus have not played in Greece since September 2, 1972. It was a friendly match in Piraeus won by France (1-3) with goals from Henri Michel, Hervé Revelli and Jean-Michel Larqué.