Greece – Turkey
The Greeks were not shy to friendlies: throughout the decennium they had played probably more friendlies than any other European country. Since losing 3-0 to Romania in November 1988, the Greek FA had arranged for no less than eight (!) international matches to be played in preparation for the home tie against the same Romanians. One could wonder why it was so, as these friendlies hardly seemed very lucrative, judging by the attendance figures Greece would have in most of these (two even attracted official figures of less than a thousand!); seven of the eight were at home. And with the national football calendar surely tight enough as it was. Yet they played a whole bunch of preparation matches, with this particular one against near neighbours Turkey being the penultimate of the eight.
Surprisingly, one could be forgiven to think, this was only the fifth ever meeting between the two countries, who had never met in any qualification to date. Indeed, there had been a period of almost 40 years where they had not met at all, until they had played each other in Istanbul only six months prior. One could not exclude the possibility that two meetings in such a short time span were somehow even politically motivated, or rather that the long period of absence in meetings had something to do with the climate between the two countries.
The first four winter and spring matches had yielded a fine win against Hungary, a draw in Albania, and successive home defeats to Portugal and England. It is difficult to say whether the Greek FA felt they had found their man when appointing Alekos Sofianidis to succeed Miltos Papapostoulou, or whether he was just seen as an interrim solution until Antonis Georgiadis would take over only a few days after this particular match. If he was just in temporary charge, then why play so many friendlies in order to build a team for the remaining qualifiers, as another manager surely would bring other ideas? It did seem likely that the appointment of Sofianidis had been made with the belief that he was the man to lead them through the remainder of the qualification.
There had been a change in goalkeepers for the home team: Talikriadis had been replaced by Oikonomopoulos. Five of the players who had featured from kick-off in the 3-0 defeat in Bucharest were starters. Trusted right back Apostolakis was back in the mix, whilst a notable absentee was central defender Manolas. There was also no Mitropoulos in midfield, but he would be suspended anyway for the upcoming qualifier at home to Romania. And veteran forward Anastopoulos, who had captained the side in Romania, would never again be seen in the national team jersey. Samaras was the new striker to accompany Saravakos, who had been made captain.
Turkey were making steady progress under manager Tınaz Tırpan, and they had opened their campaign in Group 3 with a win, a draw and a defeat from their three autumn matches. On April 12 they were due off to East Germany to play their fourth match, and having put themselves in an outsider’s position so far, they felt the need to use this fixture well, their only friendly between the previous and the upcoming qualification match. So these were two teams in stark contrast as far as how they believed preparations were best made.
Tınaz started this match in Athens with eight of the players who had also taken to the pitch for kick-off in their late November home win (3-1) against the East Germans. There had been a change of ‘keepers, with Engin coming in for the ousted Fatih to make his international bow. At left back, Tınaz had left out Semih, although he would be brought back for the upcoming trip to GDR. At left back in his place in Athens was Gökhan (Gedikali). Striker Feyyaz was also absent, with Erdal coming into the left-sided midfield position to replace him. Turkey would be in 4-4-2, with Cüneyt at centre half as their captain. The home side would also kick off in the traditional 4-4-2 formation.
Referee in Athens: a Yugoslavian man by the name of Zdravko Jokić.
|1 Spyros Oikonomopoulos||AEK|
|2 Stratos Apostolakis||Olympiakos|
|3 Iakovas Khatziathanasiou||Panathinaikos|
|4 Giannis Kallitzakis||Panathinaikos|
|5 Kostas Mavridis||Panathinaikos|
|6 Giotis Tsaloukhidis||Olympiakos|
|7 Dimitris Saravakos (c)||Panathinaikos|
|8 Andreas Bonovas||sub 52′||Iraklis|
|9 Giannis Samaras||Panathinaikos|
|10 Nikos Nioplias||sub 52′||OFI|
|11 Nikos Tsiantakis||sub 79′||Olympiakos|
|12 Fanis Tountziaris||on 52′||Iraklis|
|14 Paris Georgakopoulos||on 52′||Panathinaikos|
|17 Stefanos Borbokis||on 79′||PAOK|
|1 Engin İpekoğlu||Sakaryaspor|
|2 Recep Çetin||Beşiktaş|
|3 Gökhan Gedikali||Ankaragücü|
|4 Cüneyt Tanman (c)||Galatasaray|
|5 Gökhan Keskin||Beşiktaş|
|6 Ünal Karaman||sub 87′||Malatyaspor|
|7 Uğur Tütüneker||Galatasaray|
|8 Rıdvan Dilmen||Fenerbahçe|
|9 Oğuz Çetin||sub 83′||Fenerbahçe|
|10 Tanju Çolak||sub 81′||Galatasaray|
|11 Erdal Keser||64′||Sarıyer|
|12 Süleyman Kocakara||Boluspor|
|13 Turan Sofuoğlu||on 87′||Fenerbahçe|
|14 Mustafa Yücedağ||on 83′||Sarıyer|
|16 Hasan Vezir||on 81′||Fenerbahçe|
|x Feyyaz Uçar||Beşiktaş|
The home side featured Mavridis as the deeper of the two central defenders, and both full-backs were keen to participate in attack. Bonovas on the right hand side was more inverted than Tsiantakis down the left, and Tsaloukhidis was also not foreign to venturing inside the visitors’ half, even if Nioplias was clearly supposed to be the more creative of the two central midfielders. Greece hardly played to Samaras’ strengths, with balls to his feet rather than in the air, and Saravakos was, as always, often orientated towards the right hand side.
In the visiting camp, captain Cüneyt appeared slightly deeper than his central defensive colleague Gökhan K, while their two full-backs were rather restrictive as far as attacking willingness was concerned. Only right back Recep was seen across the halfway line of the two. Predominantly, they would try to play their way through the middle with short passes, and release either goalscorer Rıdvan or right-sided midfielder Oğuz when they chose to break with pace. Goal ace Tanju seemed somewhat static.
By the time both teams had made all three substitutions, they looked like this:
Greece had early on in the second half brought on Tountziaris to replace Bonovas on the right hand side and Georgakopoulos for Nioplias centrally in midfield. The third and final substitution saw Tountziaris move over to the left hand side when Borbokis replaced Tsiantakis. Borbokis saw the game out on the right hand side of midfield. Due to the amount of high balls into the area in the latter stages of the match, Greek captain Saravakos felt he had needed to operate slightly behind his forward partner Samaras, who was the man who would ‘go to war’ with Gökhan for the aerial challenges.
For the visitors, all three substitutions happened inside the final ten minutes, and all three appeared to be straight swaps for the players they had replaced.
The visitors will have been the more pleased after the opening 45 minutes, which had been played in a good spirit between both sets of players. One would often see handshakes among them after tackles, and even the usually fiery Bonovas would accept Erdal’s apology after a tackle which left the Greek right-sided midfielder in need of treatment towards the end of the half.
Turkey seemed the sharper of the two from kick-off, which did seem a bit odd considering the amount of friendlies that Greece had gone through during winter, or perhaps that was just why. The visitors would try to keep possession in the middle of the field, where Ünal was usually slightly behind his central midfield partner Uğur. They would both often seek to involve right midfielder Oğuz, who had a fine half. The usually so reliable Khatziathanasiou on the left hand side of the Greek defence had a poor opening period, and this had been exploited not only by Oğuz, but also by striker Rıdvan, who was often seen galloping down the right hand side for the visitors. It would occasionally need an intervension from either centre half to halt him. The quick breaks from the visitors would prove to be a big test to the Greek defence, which was also at times left exposed, as Tsaloukhidis, originally the more defensively natured of the two central midfielders, often came too high up in the pitch.
There was not a lot of pace to the match, but still both teams managed to build decent attacks, and after their rather sluggish start, the home side got into their rhythm gradually. They would try to finish from distance through Saravakos’ late free-kick, which brought about an awkward save by Engin, due to the bounce just in front of him. Tsiantakis had cut inside from his wide left position and fired a right-footed shot well over, and Nioplias had also tested his shooting boot, with his low left-footed effort seen well wide. And another opportunity came the home side’s way following Tsiantakis’ right wing corner, which was flicked on by Samaras, and then met by Tsaloukhidis at the far post. However, the ball had come to him too quickly, and he did not manage a finish, with Engin even being fouled by Kallitzakis as he made the punch to get the ball away. At the other end, Rıdvan could have scored as early as in the second minute, as he punished a dallying Mavridis by nicking the ball off him. As he raced into the area, his strike went wide of the goal with Oikonomopoulos coming off his line to narrow the angle. Ünal then had a shooting opportunity after Rıdvan had raced past the immobile Kallitzakis, again down the right hand side. The midfielder’s shot went high over the bar. Later big defender Gökhan would have a decent opportunity as he played a one-two with the lively Rıdvan, but even his effort from inside the penalty area was skied well wide and over.
The sole goal of the opening half came courtesy of more sloppy defensive play by Khatziathanasiou, who allowed Oğuz to run with the ball and cross for a totally unmarked Rıdvan. Even if the bearded striker somewhat scuffed his left-footed finish, the ball found its way into the net as Oikonomopoulos could only get a soft palm to the ball. It was fair to say that Turkey deserved their half-time lead, as they had been the more adventurous of the two during the opening 45 minutes.
Neither team had made any changes at half time. The big Gökhan Keskin at the heart of the Turkish defence reappeared with his socks down, after he had thrown away his shin pads at some point during the opening half. He would go through a lot of work during the second half, as the home side would take the game to the visitors. However, there was a rather slow start to the final 45, as neither side managed to create much in way of goalscoring opportunities. There was a lot of play going on in the centre of the pitch.
The home side made a double substitution only seven minutes into the second half, with both Bonovas and Nioplias going off to be replaced by Tountziaris and Georgakopoulos respectively. Sofianidis will have hoped to bring more life into his side, as little had been happening down their right hand side where Bonovas had featured. However, the pint-sized Iraklis man had often come inside rather than keep width, so the manager could have wanted to see more active wide play from Tountziaris. Both substitutes made their international debuts. Georgakopoulos would swing in right-sided corners with his left foot, and on one such occasions he found Tsaloukhidis at the back post, after the ball had sailed over Engin. However, his angle became too acute as he tried to steer the ball into the gaping net past the Turkish goalie, and Recep was handily placed on the line to hoof the ball clear. It had been the best opportunity from the home side all match.
The visitors had either decided to sit deeper in the second half or were being pushed back by the hosts, but either way they seemed to rely on counters. However, they were indisciplined when attempting the final pass through for either forward, as the Turkish offside count was quite high. Against more disciplined opposition, the Greeks would have been punished for being stood high with their backline, at the same time as their midfielders were not decisive enough in the pressure.
Visiting goal ace Tanju had a mundane game, and his only effort on goal came on 69 minutes, as the lively Rıdvan had combined with the just as lively Oğuz down the right hand side yet again. Rıdvan had burst into the area and could have had a go himself, but instead chose to play in his forward partner, who probably was in an inferior position to himself. The unselfishness only resulted in a Turkish corner from right after Tanju’s attempted finish had been blocked by the recovering Kallitzakis. The visiting number 10 would later be replaced by Hasan. He had had a disappointing performance by his standards.
To try and force an equalizer, the home side started playing long balls into the area. There would be a lot of aerial battles between home striker Samaras and big Gökhan at the heart of Turkey’s defence. These tactics really brought Samaras to life, as he would also be seen operating with more confidence along the ground. Saravakos, his forward partner, has drifted slightly back and tries to operate in the ‘hole’ behind Samaras. The Greek captain has two attempts from direct free-kicks: one which goes harmlessly wide, whilst the other just clears Engin’s left post. The biggest opportunity of the match will again fall to Tsaloukhidis, who got on the end of a loose ball after Tsiantakis had tried to dribble his way through inside the Turkish penalty area. Tsaloukhidis, who had missed that opportunity at the back post earlier, now skied his finish from only about eight yards out and with the goalkeeper committed.
It is difficult to say exactly what the two teams would have got out of this friendly, but the Turkish contingent definitely seemed pleased as the final whistle went. They probably now felt they would depart for East Germany with a lot of confidence, whereas Greece probably still realized they had a lot of work left to do in order to be a side that could be a force to be reckoned with in their group. Right back Apostolakis, the active Tsaloukhidis and big Samaras were probably their three best performers. For the visitors, it could be claimed that central defender Gökhan and his captain and partner Cüneyt both had fine games, with both Ünal and Uğur going through a lot of work in the engine room. And Rıdvan with his pace and unpredictability was a big threat to the Greek defence all afternoon.
The match had had one booking: Turkey’s left-sided midfielder Erdal saw yellow for kicking the ball away after having conceded a free-kick for handball inside his own half.