Georgios Samaras scores for Greece: What went right?

Greece leapfrogged Croatia in Group F of the Euro 2012 qualifiers, after last nights tumultuous 2-0 win. The match began in unsettling circumstances with a section of the home support instigating a confrontation with the travelling fans. English referee Howard Web had to stop the match for 5-10 minutes as the violent scenes subsided. Though there was little between the teams throughout the cagey, error strewn tussle, it was Celtic’s Georgios Samaras who broke the deadlock  – putting his country in pole position to qualify.

Back in Scotland, the development sparked a frenzy of debate among fans of Samaras’ club team Celtic – who a large proportion consider Samaras to be — an almost comical failure as a striker. The Greek has always struggled to win over the support; with his alleged “languid” playing style. Most damningly, and the biggest beating stick in his critics armoury, is his goals per game ratio – which is a fairly inarguable criticism. The stats read 141 appearances, (a whopping 55 of which were from the bench) with a return of 43 goals. An interesting note, is that of the 189 competitive games that have taken place since his arrival, he’s only managed to start in 86.

Regardless, given recent (barren-ish) goal-scoring form, Celtic fans are asking: How come Samaras has managed to score the decisive goal in a crucial, top-level competition?

Greece 2 – 0 Croatia

This is a Greek team just getting used to a brand new era. Legendary German manager Otto Rehhagel stepped aside after 9 years (including the famous 2004 Euro win) to allow Fernando Santos to take over. And while the manager has changed, it appears the general first-pick strategy has not – a defensive 4-3-3 built on a sturdy defence, striking blows on the counter and through set-pieces.

Slaven Bilic meanwhile opted for the fashionable 4-2-3-1 – with the intention of getting the best of Luka Modric (in his favoured, deeper role) and using a technically rich band of 3 to supply Rangers’ Nikica Jelavic. It was interesting to see Eduardo out wide on the right – once a glorious throwback to the classic “poacher” type-player, but with the wider game of football all but exterminating such greedy individuals, he finds himself exiled out on the right.

The game was notable for it’s scrappy nature with perhaps the poisonous atmosphere generated by the local support the source. Little was created in a technical sense, with Croatia in particular only managing 1 shot on-target and 1 off-target.

Georgios Samaras

Since signing for Celtic from Manchester City back in 2008, Samaras has squeezed into one of three possible different roles. (Until very recently) Celtic have been almost exclusively 4-4-2 fanatics, although Tony Mowbray’s hollow side approached being classed as 4-2-4. The go-to ‘Plan B’ has generally been some form of 4-5-1. The three roles therefore in order of frequency, have been: One of two strikers, the ‘lone’ striker or on the left of a 4 man midfield.

Crucially, the one position/role that he favours –  is on the left of a front 3, and this is a system that Celtic very rarely use (if ever). In the brief moments of attacking creativity enjoyed by Greece last night, Samaras’ looked best working off the second ball, generally won by Gekas who was acting as something of a focal point. “Target-man” might be the wrong word, (he’s only 5’10”) but Gekas certainly took up a lot of that responsibility.

Samaras’ pace (as Celtic fans are aware) is often a concern for the opposition. The nature of counter-attacks also lends itself in Samaras’ favour. Generally, there’s less time to think and more space to burst into. Picking up the ball in front of a packed “team bus” style defence — often found in Scotland — is perhaps the worst place possible for Samaras, as is wrestling for space and control in a box containing nineteen players.

The goal

From a manager’s point of view – it was a dreadful goal to concede. Not just because Samaras was left shortly after a corner in yards of space – but because the same situation had happened seconds before.

On the right is 3 images (apologies for quality) showing the first corner of the match, ending on 69 minutes and 45 seconds. In the first image, while Gekas is making his way towards the corner to take the set-piece, Corluka is tight on Samaras. Just prior to the ball being kicked, Corluka steps back a few yards (image 2). Finally, as the ball is headed clear for the second corner, Samaras has just sign-posted how easy it is to find room in the area – and it’s always worrying when a team allows a tall striker room in the area.

You can only imagine that Slaven Bilic was furious. If he wasn’t, and if you are Croatian – you should be worried.

If Bilic indeed tried to communicate this matter to his players, the message did not make it’s way across successfully.

Here is the second corner – still in the 69th minute

And just on the turn of 70 minutes, here is the strike which opened the scoring:


So how come Samaras scored? Sadly, it wasn’t down to a barnstorming performance – it was down to poor defending, and also arguably not being in Scotland. The most significant factor was clearly the time and space in the box afforded – time and space that he’d never be allowed to find in the SPL. But on a similar theme (if completely unrelated to the goal itself) he was played in his favoured position in a formation simply alien to Scottish football – that is on the left of a 4-3-3. And this is an angle that fits right in with the “critics” view: for all Samaras’ ability, perhap Scottish football doesn’t suit his style?

About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
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5 Responses to Georgios Samaras scores for Greece: What went right?

  1. Geoff says:

    the 4-3-3 had been tried I think by rangers a couple of times, against celtic – before we had the supposedly superior midfield.
    stats wise, a strong, skillful midfield playing a solid middle three, seem to create more spaces and opportunities against the usual 4-4-2 midfield…however, it gets soomewhat swamped when up against the middle 5 we often face, even if the outsides mid are really pushed up defenders.

    since we (at celtic) don’t really have the midfielders now, never mind the defensive discipline/ability, we’ll end up sticking to what we always seem to, which is a shame.

    i’d like to see us with a 4-3-3 – samaras is able to track back and offer some width in defense on the left but i’d not know who to put on the right.
    can scott brown do it – dodgy ankle nothwithstanding aong with drifting inside too often?

    the other central mids would probably all end up being defensive – screening the back 4 when needed but maybe not offering a great deal creatively.
    i’d wonder if we played a 4-3-1-2 – and let Ki or brown take the ‘1’ behind the strikers.
    The dutch used to have a system where a comabtive def-mid was pushed up high to harass the opposing defenders, creating panic when they tried to build oout from the back, and resulting often in gaining possession in greatly attacking places.
    I don’t know why that died out though.

  2. Spidey says:

    I don’t know that we don’t have the p[layers for 4-3-3. With Sami on the left, and Forrest (or Commons) on the right. THen Ki, Kayal and Ledley in midfield – solid and a bit of creativity.

    Alternatively, 4-2-3-1 with double pivot of Kayal and Ledley, then Forrest, Commons and Sami strung across the 3-band.

    The only problem with both is the lack of a focal point/target man to play as the 1 up front! Not sure Bangura is the answer, though he could possibly be suited to the right hand side of a front 3.

  3. kevin says:

    but seriously, we do have the players (hooper up front, forrest/brown on the left)

    and samaras doesnt fit in in scotland, as stated above
    i’ve always said that samaras is okay, but we don’t play to his strengths

    i think it is best for both parties if he was sold to a more easy going league/country

    perhaps spain or back to holland

  4. kevin says:

    sorry i meant forrest/brown on the right
    (i guess commons as well but he doesnt fit there)

  5. Pingback: Celtic 3 – 1 Rennes: Celtic battle-back for first Europa League win | TicTacTic

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