Battle Of Attrition In Athens
Greece v Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland will aim to continue their perfect start to the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Greece.
Greece’s stuttering start to the Euro 2016 qualifiers continued on Saturday night when they were held to a 1-1 draw in Finland as Jarkko Hurme’s goal ten minutes into the second half earned the home side a share of the spoils after Nikolaos Kerelis had given the visitors the lead in the first half.
It was the first point earned by Claudio Ranieri’s side in the group after they suffered a 1-0 defeat on their own patch to Romania in their first game. It’s now three games without a win for the Greeks following their World Cup exit at the hands of Costa Rica in the last 16 stage, and they’ve now won just two of their past 11 games overall and have scored just seven times in those games.
Michael O’Neill’s side won their second game in a row thanks to a 2-0 victory over the Faroe Islands on Saturday, in what was just their fourth win on 33 matches. Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty grabbed first half goals at Windsor Park – their first home game in more than a year – to earn a result that put them top of group F, two points ahead of both Finland and Romania.
It was a comfortable win for O’Neill’s side, who could have scored more but were also indebted to goalkeeper Roy Carroll after he saved a penalty ten minutes before the break. Following on from a fine win in Hungary in their opening qualifier, Northern Ireland have real momentum now ahead of their clash with the group’s top seeds and favourites.
Known as ‘The Tinkerman’ during his time in charge of Chelsea, it seems likely that Ranieri will ring the changes for Greece here too. Georgios Samaras, Kevin Mitroglou and Dimitris Salpingidis are amongst those who could be in line for a recall.
West Brom winger Chris Brunt is expected to miss out again after he suffered a groin injury in training last week which saw him miss the win over the Faroes. Defender Jonny Evans is also still missing with an ankle problem he suffered playing for Manchester United. O’Neill has stated he may make changes to the side, with Paddy McCourt a contender for a starting berth after impressing off the bench on Saturday.
Head to Head
In five games between the sides Northern Ireland have won just once, and that came more than fifty years ago with a 2-0 home win in qualifying for the 1962 World Cup.
Greece have won each of the other four games most recently earning wins home and away in Euro 2004 qualifiers without conceding a goal.
With two teams who seem to be going in opposite directions of late this game is far less straightforward than it would have appeared when the groups were drawn. Bearing that in mind the 1/2 on a home win looks to be of little value with a third victory on the spin for Northern Ireland a huge 6/1.
That may prove a bridge too far for O’Neill’s side but a point is well within their grasp and the 29/10 on the draw is a decent shout, and 6/4 on the draw or a Northern Ireland win on the double chance. With two sides who don’t score very often 8/11 on under 2.5 goals looks to be the pick of the odds on punts too.