As the 2018/19 club season has come to a close, it is time for the international teams across the planet to take the stage.
Without a major tournament taking place this summer, the focus turns to Euro 2020 qualification.
Group J is one of the toughest, and Saturday will see a crucial contest in the campaign as Greece are set to host Italy in Athens. Both nations are desperate to get back to a major tournament, and their matchup will be big in deciding who ultimately makes it to Euro 2020.
Greece had a decent enough time during the last international break, picking up four points in their first two group stage matches, both coming on the road.
It started with a trip to Liechtenstein, where Konstantinos Fortounis gave the Greeks the lead right at the end of the first half before a goal from Anastasios Donis put the game to bed with ten minutes to go.
They had a much tougher time in their next game away to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as they quickly found themselves down 2-0 after goals from Edin Visca and Miralem Pjanic.
However, Greece were able to stay in the game and eventually halved the deficit after Fortunis concerted a penalty that was awarded to them at the hour mark. Pjanic was sent off moments later, and Greece managed to find an equalizer through Dimitris Kolovos, whose header bounced off the underside of the bar and into the back of the net.
Italy have made a perfect start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, winning both of their opening two contests.
They began with a tricky home fixture against an in-form Finland team, but the Italians just had too much talent on the day, as goals from Nicolo Barella and Moise Kean gave them the three points.
Their next match was much easier, as Italy put six past a hopeless Lichtenstein team. Kean scored once again, and 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella grabbed a brace, with both goals coming from the penalty spot.
Last time out
These two nations haven’t faced off much in recent years, as they have only played one another once since 1987.
That meeting took place in 2008, when Greece hosted Italy in a friendly match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
After a scoreless first half, the home side took the lead through Theofanis Gekas, who snuck behind the defense and chipped the onrushing goalkeeper.
However, the lead would only last four minutes, as Luca Toni headed home after a cross from Daniele De Rossi. Both teams had chances to win the game late on, but they had to settle for a draw come the final whistle.
Greece: Vlachodimos, Bakakis, Sokratis, Siovas, Koutris, Kourbelis, Bouchalakis, Fortounis, Mitroglou, Samaris.
Italy: Donnarumma, Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Biraghi, Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Kean, Immobile, Bernardeschi.
What to watch for
Bad news for neutrals who are excited to watch this contest on Saturday afternoon: it’s likely not going to be pretty.
If there’s one thing Greece and Italy have had in common historically, it’s an incredible defence.
The Italians have constantly produced some of the best centrebacks the world has ever seen, while Greece won Euro 2004 without conceding a goal in the knockout rounds.
That hasn’t changed much, and it’s probable that their upcoming matchup will be a tense and scrappy affair.
Defensive stalwarts like Giorgio Chiellini and Sokratis Papastathopoulos will take the field Saturday, and both sets of attacks will have to look for a moment of magic if they want to score any goals.
There are a number of Italian strikers who have impressed this past season, but none have been as exciting to watch as 19-year-old Moise Kean.
The phenom from Juventus had his breakthrough campaign this year, making his mark for both club and country. He wasn’t given much time in Turin, but Kean managed to score six league goals as Juventus won the Serie A title with ease.
He opened his goalscoring account with Italy during the last international break as well, as he got on the scoresheet against both Finland and Liechtenstein.
He’s packed with plenty of raw pace and strength, and he just knows where to be in the penalty area to finish off chances. He’ll be a nuisance for the Greece defence to deal with, and Kean will be motivated to prove himself against a historically tough defensive side.