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How Greece lost Giannou to the Socceroos

Soccer

He’s the striker Greece came within a whisker of stealing from Australia, and Socceroo Apostolos Giannou admits it’ll be a bit surreal facing his country of birth.

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It was only six months ago that Giannou played for Greece, coming off the bench for 20 minutes in a friendly with Turkey.

That would have been his first cap, except that the Hellenic Football Federation (HFF) didn’t file the required paperwork to change the 26-year-old’s allegiance back from Australia, for whom he’d played at under-17 level before joining Greece’s junior ranks.

That documentation bungle resulted in the HFF being fined by FIFA and having their scoreless draw ruled to be a 3-0 loss to Turkey.

This only rubs salt into the wounds of the Greek squad who will line up against their former teammate Giannou in at least one of two friendlies, first on Saturday at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium and then on Tuesday at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, who mentored a teenage Giannou in the Joeys, spotted a window of opportunity and persuaded him back to the country he’d moved to as a nine-year-old.

Players who have appeared at senior level are generally prohibited from switching nationalities, a rule that does not apply in non-competitive friendlies.

It’ll also be special for Giannou who, at 16, watched from the stands when Australia played Greece in the 2006 World cup farewell game at the MCG.

“It’s exciting and a bit strange,” Giannou said.

“I was with most of these boys in November playing together, so it’s a weird situation.

“I’m excited to see them again … they might stir me up for a joke, but I’ve spoken to the boys since then and everyone is fine.”

While Giannou might have mixed feelings, there are more-pertinent matters at hand.

Like building on his sole Socceroos cap – a solid performance in March’s 7-0 World Cup qualifying win over Tajikistan.

“I don’t want to focus on being Greek and changing to Australia, just to play as good as possible and help the team as much as I can,” said Giannou, who signed in February with Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F.

“I’m trying to block out the rest of it.”

Postecoglou is keen to give Giannou extended game time against Greece in preparation for his likely inclusion in the last qualifying stage on the road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

His talents are such that he’s viewed as part of the answer to the post-Tim Cahill era.

“It’s always hard at the start; it’s difficult to be free like you normally play.

“But the more time you play with the team, the more you know teammates better and everything starts to click.”

-AAP

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