Greece held to shock draw versus minnows Liechtenstein: A look at the Greek demise since Fernando Santos left
In one of the most extraordinary results international football has seen, one of the smallest FIFA-recognised nations across the globe have just earned a gargantuan point against the European champions of 2004.
It is a scarcely believable scoreline to those who haven’t been following Greek football closely. Having completed one of the ultimate upsets the sport has seen by winning the European Championship in Portugal just 15 years ago, the decline of Greek football at international level has been as rapid as it has dramatic.
Results like this can happen, of course. Rarely, but they can. Portugal, after all, drew 2-2 in Liechtenstein in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, losing a 2-0 lead to suffer one of the more embarrassing results in the country's history.
But Liechtenstein were perhaps slightly better back then; they actually picked up 8 points in the qualifying group overall, a highly impressive total for the minnows showing just how extraordinarily above their weight they were really punching at the time. It was still a pretty atrocious result for Portugal at the time, though for Greece, for whom the three points were so much more important to keep their qualifying hopes alive, it is only the latest in several very disappointing defeats.
And this latest result truly cements the tragic fall of the Greece national team, which has really been occuring ever since Portuguese manager Fernando Santos departed the side to take over his own national team.
To put it into context, Liechtenstein’s entire population is just 38,000 - a total population that is roughly half the capacity of the stadium they were playing in against Greece. Compare that to Greece’s population - over 10 million - and it becomes clear just how phenomenal this result is.
Greece went into their home enocunter with Liechtenstein sitting just 5th in their qualifying group, behind all of Italy, Finland, Armenia and Bosnia Herzegovina in the table, with qualification for the biggest continental competition European football has to offer already a formidable task. In fact, they were only ahead of lowly Liechtenstein in the standings heading into their clash, the micronation having, unsurprisingly, picked up no points in their opening 5 matches, with a -18 goal difference also to boot.
Greece, despite all their troubles, were widely expected to triumph quite comfortably over their opponents and at least keep their qualification chances alive.
And that looked to be the case for the majority of the match. Greece, as was to be expected, saw the vast majority of the ball and created the most chances, though proved wasteful in front of goal.With half an hour gone and still no opener, there was that element of doubt creeping into the minds of some, that thought that maybe, just maybe, a David and Goliath story was about to be written.
Fantasies like that are all but fiction though, and Greece finally hit the opener in the 33rd minute of the game, a shot-slash-cross from Koulouris finding Masouras in the box, who prodded home to ease the tension in the deserted Athens Olympic Stadium.
And that was surely that. If there were to be any kind of upset, you’d put your money on it being 0-0. The chances of Liechtenstein scoring, with such little possession and focusing on simply keeping the score respectable, seemed, at least on paper, close to nought.
But Liechtenstein obviously didn’t get a copy of the script. With 5 minutes to go and Greece in full control, a loose pass allowed Nicolas Hasler to pick the ball up in his own half. Thumping forward a hopeful grounded through-ball, Hasler created a huge opening for Liechtenstein; with Greece pushing forward in numbers, Hasler’s pass split the Greek defence, playing the ball through the experienced centreback duo of Arsenal’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Napoli’s Kostas Manolas, who desperately tried to sprint back.
They couldn’t match Dennis Salanovic for pace, though, who showed great composure to stride forward and slip the ball under Vasilios Barkas in the Greek goal to the jubilation of Liechtenstein supporters back home.
It is one of the biggest shocks Liechtenstein have ever caused, up there with their extraordinary 2-2 draw against Portugal in a 2006 World Cup qualifier and their incredible 3-0 victory over Iceland in 2007. Whatever issues Greece are going through, full credit must go to Liechtenstein for securing such a sensational result.
A downfall since Fernando Santos departed
This isn’t Greece’s first shocking result in recent years, though. After Fernando Santos’ impressive reign over Greece, it was very difficult to anticipate what was to come.
After all, under the stewardship of Fernando Santos, Greece were actually a very competitive team, a feat which is even more impressive with hindsight.
With Santos at the helm, Greece managed to qualify for both major tournaments he presided over, first the Euros in 2012, followed by the World Cup in 2014.
The Euro 2012 qualifying campaign was highly successful; in their ten group games, Greece were undefeated, winning 7 and drawing 3, and in very Fernando Santos fashion, conceded just 5 goals. It meant they topped their qualifying group, finishing above Croatia in the process.
And at the Euros, Greece made it out of a tough group, finishing 2nd ahead of both Russia and Poland, only behind Czech Republic. They therefore advanced to the quarter final, where they were knocked out by heavyweights Germany 4-2.
They continued their good showing under Santos for the 2014 World Cup, where he again led the country to the competition proper. In qualification, they won 8 of their 10 matches, conceding just 4 in the process - 3 of which came in just 1 match (a 3-1 defeat to Bosnia). However, they only finished 2nd in the group, behind Bosnia on goal difference, and had to beat Romania over two legs to qualify for the global event - which they did.
At the tournament proper, they were in a group with Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan, and they squeezed into the round of 16, finishing above Ivory Coast thanks to a 93rd minute penalty converted by Samaras. They faced Costa Rica in the first knockout round, and lost by virtue of penalty shoot-outs.
Having gone further in the competition than his home country Portugal, who were knocked out in the group stage, finishing behind Germany and USA, Fernando Santos was the man chosen to succeed Paulo Bento as manager of Portugal for Euro 2016 qualification.
While Portugal were rejuvinated under Santos, winning all their Euro 2016 qualifying games after he took over, Greece went in the opposite direction. Claudio Ranieri came in as the new manager, and Greece suffered a shocking Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the particularly low point coming in a shock 0-1 home defeat against Faroe Islands.
If that wasn’t bad enough, they followed up that disastrous result with a 2-1 defeat against the Faroe Islands in the reverse fixture, meaning that the European minnows did the double over them.
Indeed, going into the Euro 2016 qualifiers as the pot 1 team in their group thanks to the excellent work by Santos with Greece, they were expected to make it out of a reasonaby favourable group containing Romania, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Finland and the Faroe Islands, and yet not only did they fail to be competitive - they finished absolute bottom of the group, below Faroe Islands, winning just one of their 10 qualifying matches.
Their World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign was much more respectable, it should be said, finishing 2nd in a group containing both Belgium and Bosnia under the guidance Michael Skibbe, but they failed to qualify, losing their play-off match with Croatia 4-1 on aggregate.
After Skibbe left, things have gone back downhill again for Greece who, despite featuring some high-profile players playing for some high-profile clubs both in their home country and across the continent, have started to again rack up some very disappointing results, failing to top their Nations League C group, finishing behind both Finland and Hungary and only finishing above Estonia to narrowly avoid relegation to the bottom tier of the new UEFA competition, while in Euro 2020 qualification, they have fallen to defeats to both Armenia and Finland and suffered the disastrous 1-1 draw with Lichtenstein to all but end their chances of qualifying for the continental competition.
It has been a time to forger for Greece who only 15 years ago were celebrating a most unlikely triumph in Portugal. It is a lesson to fans across the globe: enjoy the success while you have it. You just never know how long it will last.
The trajectories of both Portugal and Greece since Fernando Santos left the latter to join the former are also a sensational contrast. While Greece have hit rock bottom since he departed, Portugal are now double European champions, having won Euro 2016 in France - Santos’ first tournament at the helm of the Seleçao - and the inaugral Nations League on home soil this summer.
Of course, Greece are going through a huge transition, and it isn’t just the fact that Fernando Santos has left that they are struggling so significantly, far from it, but in any case, with a tactically strong coach like Santos at the helm, you can safely assume that Greece would not be doing quite as badly as they are now. It is testament to the man, who did a terrific job at Greece, and an even more tremendous job with his own country.