Both Canada and Greece went into their friendly with an interesting mix of veterans and youngsters. It created for a fairly disjointed affair which was definitely not helped by the pitch and after a fairly even first half a tactical switch from Fernando Santos helped give Greece a victory.
Without Julian de Guzman Canada lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape. This somewhat mirrored Greece’s formation which oscillated between a 4-3-3, 4-4-2, and 4-1-4-1. When Canada had the ball De Rosario naturally found himself beside Karagounis who played deeper than Katsouranis, and when Greece had the ball de Rosario in turn was the one pressing Karagounis. It meant that the two key playmakers for each side were canceling each other out.
When each player has someone they are naturally lined up beside it makes pressing easier. Since you are usually stationed beside an opposition player anyway you are able to easily press him and Greece was finding joy disrupting Canada’s passing by pressing in Canada’s half. When either Cann or Jakovic had the ball Lymberopoulos would cut off a passing angle and the Greek midfielders would press their counterparts. This didn’t let Canada settle into a rhythm and forced de Rosario to drop deep to help Canada maintain possession.
The problem was that when Canada did maintain the ball it was hard to break down the Greek backline which was insulated by Karagounis and another bank of four. Canada needed some sort of clever movement, a combination of full backs bombing forward, Hutchinson or Johnson making an unexpected run, or the front three of Simpson, Occean, and Jackson exchanging space. Occean tried hard but he was physically over-matched by the back four of Greece. It probably would have been better for Hart to play Jackson up front with Ricketts on the right wing in order to try and beat Greece on the ground.
Teams more dangerous without the ball
As a result of the teams canceling each other out each team actually looked more dangerous without the ball. Greece pressured Canada in their own half and looked like the only way they could break down Cann and Jakovic would be to win the ball high up the pitch. They kept attempting to play the ball over the top which is not a good idea against the pair. On the other hand Canada got their best chances from poor passing at the back from Greece. Both Jackson and Simpson had Canada’s best chances when a pass around Greece’s box fell to them but they ended up shooting wide. Canada’s front men should have been instructed to hound the Greek defenders, the pitch offering no advantage to the man on the ball.
Half time switch proves crucial
After a straightforward first half in which one could argue that Canada could have won Fernando Santos made numerous changes in player personnel and one tactical change that allowed Greece to dominate. In the first half Hutchinson and Johnson had two players to press but in the second half Santos introduced Mitroglou to play behind Lymberopoulos. This meant that when Canada’s central midfield pair pressed like they did in the first half the space behind them was naturally filled by Mitroglou. This has a knock on effect as the central defenders now have a decision to make whether to follow him or not. If they do they create even more space behind them which is even more dangerous and if they stay the attacking midfielder has the ball at his feet with time. Time and time again Canada was cut open by Mitroglou and in truth it wasn’t so much his skill as his positioning that wreaked havoc. The goal came after Greece had dominated the entire half although the goal itself wasn’t inherently tactical. Straith should have cleared the cross easily but it’s worth pointing out a couple things. First is a simple statistical phenomenon, if you throw a large number of balls into the box there is a higher chance one will be mis-cleared or bobble your way. Greece was launching attack after attack and by random error one was bound to create a good opportunity. Secondly Canada looked tired after having to defend for so long. Many of the players are still in their pre-season and playing without the ball is always more fatiguing than playing with it.
Why didn’t de Rosario find space after Greek switch?
One might ask the question why Mitroglou found so much space after Santos made his switch and De Rosario didn’t. The difference was that Karagounis was able to recognize the new set up and when Greece lost the ball he immediately dropped back to shadow De Rosario. While it’s probably true that Santos instructed Karagounis to do so, after all he was the one who changed the shape of the game, it is disconcerting that not one of Hutchinson, Johnson, or Hart realized the danger before it was too late.
Hart identifies problem but too late
Shortly after the goal Hart brought on Edgar for Jackson and switched to a 4-3-3, presumably in order to field an anchor man to deal with Greece’s attacking midfielder. Canada immediately looked better defensively and this change in formation was probably a better move than simply asking one of the central midfielders to drop deep because it moved Canada’s playmaker away from Greece’s deep lying midfielder. It also afforded Hutchinson more freedom to get forward and his deep runs often caught Greece unaware as Canada pushed forward for an equalizer.
A good match to show how a change in formation needs to be accompanied by a change in individual tactics. Fernando Santos made the switch and Stephen Hart was late to respond. By the time he did he had run out of time and his team had run out of energy. Canadian fans can take solace in that for the first half they were at the very least equal to a decent line up and that Hart at least has the ability to recognize tactical issues, they now just have to worry if he will be able to realize them quicker and when he does if he has the depth to change the match.