Before Fernando Santos named his provisional Greece squad for UEFA EURO 2012, there was much speculation about which goalkeepers he would take with him to Austria for the pre-tournament training camp.
After he selected Kostas Chalkias, Michalis Sifakis and Alexandros Tzorvas, tongues continued to wag, and the reaction to the decision was mixed. The first two matches in the competition have reignited the discussion. And it looks likely that it will continue long after the team have returned to Greece.
Let's step back in time to 17 May, the day the Portuguese coach announced his trio of keepers for UEFA EURO 2012. He admitted in that press conference: "It was not easy coming to a decision. There were five players in with a good chance of making the cut. In the end, I chose the goalkeepers who have had more time with the national squad, who played the most matches in qualifying."
It was a tough decision for Santos as no Greek keeper was the undisputed No1 in the manner of Spain's Iker Casillas or Hugo Lloris for France. No one met all three requirements: a good season + plus familiarity with the national team + competitive experience.
Chalkias was a substitute at PAOK FC for half the season and became first choice again only in March. He impressed in the away win over Panathinaikos FC, but failed to maintain a high performance level until the end of the season.
Sifakis, Santos's regular goalkeeper until injury in September 2011, returned to action after knee surgery in March 2012. Come the end of the season, he had played a total of just four league matches for Aris Thessaloniki FC.
As for Tzorvas, he signed for US Città di Palermo last August, and was a first-team regular to begin with, but was benched in November 2011. He has played just 40 minutes of a Coppa Italia match since, and that was in mid-December. Yet Santos opted for these three, choosing familiarity over form. Who else could he have gone for?
There was, for instance, Dionisis Chiotis at APOEL FC, who helped the Cypriot club to a dream run all the way to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. There was also Orestis Karnezis, who was Panathinaikos's third-choice keeper last August, but steadily became the No1 and ended the season with some impressive performances in the league play-offs. Santos said of Karnezis: "He played with us once, in the last friendly, but I believe he is not ready yet, he lacks experience for such a competition."
As they say, there is no use crying over spilt milk. It's a fact that Chalkias didn't provide the stability Greece needed between the sticks in the first two matches. In the decider against Russia, it will be Sifakis's turn to prove if he is up to the task.
However, whatever happens on Saturday, knowing Santos and the way the Greece team constantly occupies his thoughts, I am sure that the goalkeeping question will linger in his mind for a long time. And he will be asking himself if he chose wisely.
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