As soon as Greece and Italy drew each other in Group J of the 2020 Euro Qualifiers – Australia took notice.
With Australia having one of the world’s largest Greek and Italian communities, the two sets of fans have been itching for the chance to face off against one another for years.
The rivalry may be more tongue-in-cheek than political, but nonetheless the winner will claim the ultimate bragging rights.
Greece: By Athos Sirianos
If Jimmy from the fish and chip shop hasn’t already mentioned it – Greece won the European Cup in2004.
Aside from Leicester City winning the Premier League, there has never been a greater upset in football with Greece shocking the host nation Portugal – twice – to be crowned European Champions.
This, coupled with the 2004 Olympics and winning Eurovision, saw the Greeks return to heights not experienced since ancient times.
Since then, the Greeks qualified for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, advancing as far as the Round of 16 in Brazil, albeit this has since been overshadowed by failing to qualify for a major tournament since then.
As already mentioned, Greece has not qualified for a major tournament since the 2014 World Cup – failing to qualify for the tournament in Russia as well as the 2016 Euros.
Though Greece’s lowest point – perhaps in their football history – was losing to the Faroe Islands in the 2016 Euro qualifiers not once, but twice.
This sent the country into meltdown and severely impacted their FIFA ranking, with the nation having sat comfortably inside the top 15 – reaching as far as eighth at one point – placing them in a favourable position when it came to drawing groups for qualifiers.
Albeit recent failures have seen the national side plummet down the table and now face an arduous task to qualify for the Euros – having to get past Italy and Bosnia.
Qualification so far…
The Greeks sit second in Group J – behind leaders Italy – on four points after two matches.
An opening round win against Liechtenstein was followed with a hard fought two-all draw with Bosnia after conceding the first two goals.
An 85th minute Dimitris Kolovos equaliser secured a very handy point for the Greeks away from home and will certainly be buoyed by this result as they prepare to their biggest challenge yet.
Player to watch – Kostas Fortounis
As much as the Greeks would do anything to see those 2004 heroes return – there is still plenty of talent within this new generation of players.
Fortounis has caught the eye of several suitors – including West Ham United – after an impressive season for Olympiakos, finishing the season with 17 goals and 16 assists.
Moreover, given the absence of Kostas Mitroglou due to injury the squad will rely on Fortounis to deliver up front.
The 26-year-old has already scored two goals in qualifiers so far – proving himself a valuable asset for the Greeks.
Why they’ll win
They’re fittingly nicknamed the Piratiko – the pirate ship – because they always steal the victory.
While the Greeks, like the Italians, are masters in the art of defending they have shown they are capable of playing attacking football.
The spirit shown against Bosnia to recover a two-goal deficit away from home will give the Greeks plenty of confidence as they head into this contest against an Italian side just as eager to prove itself.
The Greeks won’t be looking for a shootout but to score first and defend for their lives.
Athos’ prediction: 1-1 Draw
Italy: By Nick D’Urbano
How can you go past the 2006 World Cup?
You walk down Lygon Street or into any Italian home and you will see some sort of relic
showing the beautiful blue Italy jersey with the gold-trim and Fabio Cannavaro holding up the Jules Rimet.
Beating the French on penalties in the final and seeing off Germany in the most enthralling fashion in the semi-final was the absolute pick of the bunch.
The squad in itself was to die for with a fantastic mix of players going from the brick-wall Gianluigi Buffon in goals to Fabio Cannavaro holding the fort, Andrea Pirlo mesmerising defences at his will and Marco Materazzi becoming the unlikeliest of heroes in front of goal.
It was a tournament to remember even though Socceroos fans still believe they were robbed – Italy deserved their fourth World Cup crown regardless.
Not qualifying for the Russian World Cup last year.
The two-legged affair against Sweden was Italy’s rock bottom after they failed to get past the Scandinavian’s in 2017.
A deflected goal in the first-leg was ultimately their undoing which was coupled by poor tactical decisions by Gian Piero Ventura and a range of poor finishing in the second-leg which saw the Azzurri fail to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Since then, it has still been groundhog days for Italy, the nonnos and generations prior to
their poor showing in qualification have woken from their slumber still blaming Roberto
Baggio’s absence at the 2002 World Cup as the reason for Italy’s demise.
Qualification so far
Two wins from two has seen Italy head to the summit after convincing performances in the first lot of qualifiers.
Wins over Finland and Liechtenstein woke the dying embers of Italy fans around the world as they marvelled at young upstart Fabio Quagliarella as the great white hope of Italian football at age 36.
After the Sampdoria striker scored a double from the spot and Moise Kean continued his superb run in front of goal, there was a new sign of attacking flair which had been gone from Italy for years prior – preferring their defensive approach to games as the way forward under previous managers.
Seeing Italy win a game by more than two goals has got all Italians saying in a New York
accent “oooohhhh paesan, how about those Italians aye? We are gonna win the Euro’s, no question, without a doubt” while also holding onto their belt and speaking with amazing hand language.
Player to watch – Fabio Quagliarella
As I said, the great white hope of Italian football at age 36 – still in his prime, still with room to grow – like the fine wine which sits in your nonno’s cellar for years but “aye no touch until you grow capelli on your chest”.
Quagliarella has had a fantastic season at Sampdoria, scoring 26 goals and taking home the Serie A golden boot in a remarkable season for the Genovese club.
After nine years in the wilderness, he returned to the national team scoring twice from the spot against Liechtenstein and helping bolster their goal difference in the early parts of the tournament.
He may remarkably be the man to lead Italy back to the promised land, after all he fits the age-bracket of the national team that has plagued the nation for years.
30 or over.
Why they’ll win
Because they have to win.
They can’t lose against Greece, like come on.
They have Giannis, they have Tstisipas, they can’t have this too.
We can’t let Greece beat us, maddon’ if they come away with the win – it will be like them winning the Euros all over again.
It will be the Apocalypse.
You can lose to Bosnia, you can lose to anyone else.
Just not the Greeks.
That’s why they have to win.
Nick’s prediction: Italy 1-0