Lacking a goalscorer,Greece rely heavily on goals from midfield,as well as set-pieces – and that means much is expected of Sotiris Ninis,sometimes described as Greece’s diamond in the rough.
Panathinaikos favourite Ninis,as well as Olympiakos Pireaus winger Giannis Fetfatzidis,could play vital roles in Greece’s hopes of progressing in Euro 2012.
Once the subject of a projected 9.0 million euros move to Manchester United,Ninis,remarkably,is still only 22,having twice been voted Greece’s Young Footballer of the Year as a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old.
Such has been his impact on the Greek domestic game that he seems to have been around much longer. Having started this season in blistering form,the right-sided midfielder’s contribution came to a halt when he suffered a serious knee injury in a qualifier against Israel in September.
The Panathinaikos forward damaged cruciate ligaments moments after scoring a spectacular solo goal and his absence has been a real blow for both club and country.
However,it did not prevent the Greeks clinching qualification with victory against group favourites Croatia. He returned to action in March and it is hoped he can reach his early-season heights in time for the Euros.
Born in the Albanian town of Himare to Greek parents,Ninis was first called up to the senior team as an 18-year-old for a friendly against Cyprus in 2008,scoring on his debut.
He was selected for the 2010 World Cup but former coach Otto Rehhagel appeared reluctant to put his faith in him. He questioned his defensive work rate and Ninis made only two substitute appearances in South Africa for a total of 41 minutes.
Ninis was eventually promoted to the starting line-up by new manager Fernando Santos after Greece drew their opening two Euro 2012 qualifiers against Georgia and Croatia and the move immediately paid dividends,his selection coinciding with a run of five successive wins.
An elegant playmaker with a keen eye for a defence-splitting pass,the creative probing of Ninis could prove decisive for Greece. Despite his 1.73 metres frame,Ninis also possesses the ability to score spectacular goals from distance,a weapon Greece will need if they are to trouble their opponents.
Then there is the enigma of Fetfatzidis.
One year junior to Ninis and even shorter at 1.68 metres,Fetfatzidis is more of an explosive out-and-out winger than midfield schemer.
He made his debut in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign,coming on to replace Ninis in a 1-0 win against Latvia in October 2010. He scored his first goal for Greece in February last year in a friendly against Canada that Greece won 1-0.
Often referred to as the Greek Messi by Greek fans and media due to his close ball control and skill,the highlight of his club season was a superb volley at the Stade Velodrome which earned Olympiakos a 1-0 Champions League victory in Marseille.
He produced a dribbling masterclass for his country against Malta in June when he scored twice more to leave the Greek media in raptures.
His form emphasised why Olympiakos signed him up to an improved contract in September 2010,increasing his wages and inserting a 12.5 million euros release clause.
Despite his obvious talent,Fetfatzidis has blown hot and cold in the second half of the season. His inconsistency has led both club coach Ernesto Valverde and Santos to keep him on the bench.
It is likely he will find himself in a similar position at the Euro 2012 finals where he may be used as an impact player to change a game if Greece are in need of attacking inspiration.
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