Gus Poyet leads goal-shy Greece – a closer look at Northern Ireland’s opponents

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Gus Poyet will take charge of his first competitive game as Greece boss when they face Northern Ireland in the Nations League in Belfast on Thursday night.

Poyet took over in February and is still getting to grips with a young squad which has been overhauled following recent disappointments.

Here, the PA news agency looks at Northern Ireland’s opponents.


Soccer – UEFA European Championship Qualifying – Group F – Northern Ireland v Greece – Windsor Park
Northern Ireland enjoyed critical wins home and away against Greece on their way to Euro 2016 (Liam McBurney/PA)

Poyet’s predecessor John van ‘t Schip resigned as Greece boss in November after their failure to qualify for the World Cup, having finished third in their group behind Spain and Sweden. It was the fourth consecutive major tournament the 2004 European champions had failed to reach, a run which started when they lost twice to Northern Ireland during Euro 2016 qualifying. In the Nations League, they are yet to find a way to escape League C, the obvious first mission now for Poyet. The Uruguayan started his reign with a 1-0 away win over Romania in March, but followed that with a 1-0 loss to Montenegro.


Poyet will need little introduction to football fans of a certain generation, having starred for both Chelsea and Tottenham as a player before going on to manage Brighton and Sunderland among others. The 54-year-old was also well known to Greek fans, having been coach of AEK Athens in 2015-16. But his experience in the Greek capital made him a controversial choice for the national job. Though he had beaten Olympiacos and Panathinaikos on his way to a third-place finish in the league, he was sacked ahead of the Greek Cup semi-final after angering club owner Dimitris Melissanidis with public comments about the club’s board and operations. His last managerial role before Greece was in Chile with Universidad Catolica, where he won a league title but attracted criticism for passive tactics.


The early signs, based on March’s friendlies, point to a 4-3-3 system focused on retaining possession. But Greece are yet to show they can create enough chances, relying on individuals to provide a spark. That is nothing new – they have not scored more than twice in a game since 2017, but equally have not conceded more than twice in a game for more than three years. Finding a goalscorer is the challenge for Poyet – his youthful squad includes only one outfield player over the age of 30, but nobody who has more than five goals for their country.

Key men

Celtic v Motherwell – cinch Premiership – Celtic Park
Celtic’s Giorgos Giakoumakis can be the focus point up front for Greece (Jane Barlow/PA)

Celtic striker Giorgos Giakoumakis is expected to become the attacking focal point of Poyet’s side. The 27-year-old scored 16 goals after the turn of the year to finish joint top-scorer in the Scottish Premiership, though he is yet to add to the debut international goal he scored for Greece in November 2020. Other familiar faces are Liverpool’s left-back Kostas Tsimikas and Sheffield United wing-back George Baldock, who has received his first call-up for this window after changing nationality, with the 29-year-old qualifying via his late grandmother.

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