Should new Socceroo Apostolos Giannou play only his third international game this Saturday, he’ll hold the extraordinary distinction of having played for and against Greece at senior level.
But Giannou’s appearance for Greece against Turkey in November last year should never have happened. The Hellenic Football Federation have been fined $6000 by FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee for fielding the striker without registering his passport, leaving the match to be declared a 3-0 forfeit in favour of Turkey.
Players are not usually permitted to change nationalities after featuring at senior level, unless they’ve only played in friendlies – a loophole Football Federation Australia exploited to get the 26-year old to switch to the Socceroos this year.
Giannou made his international debut for the nation where he was raised against Tajikistan in Adelaide – a qualifying game that tied him to Australia once and for all.
The former Oakleigh Cannons junior will get the chance to play against Greece twice, first in Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday and then in Melbourne at Etihad Stadium three days later.
“I don’t want to focus on being Greek and changing to Australia. My mentality is to play as good as possible and help the team as much as I can. I am just trying to block out the other stuff and focus on Socceroos,” he said on Thursday. “It’s exciting and a bit strange because I was with most of these boys in November, playing together, so it’s weird situation.”
Giannou said he’d spoken to many of the Greek players and said none of them resented his decision to switch to Australia. “I am excited to see them again because I have got very good friends in the national team that I played with in Greece,” he said. “I’ve spoken to the boys since then and everyone is fine, there’s no problems in that case.”
Giannou said he’d been overwhelmed by ticket requests to watch him, especially in his home city.
“They are buzzing, especially as I was at the last game when Australia played Greece [in front of 95,000 in 2006 at the MCG] as a 16-year-old in the stands,” he said.
“Now to be playing against them in Sydney and Melbourne [is incredible]. Melbourne will be special in front of family and friends. I’ll need plenty of tickets. There is too many of them.”
While Giannou impressed as a lone striker against Tajikistan, he didn’t get on the scoresheet in the 7-0 romp and feels he’ll be sharper this time around.
“It’s always hard at the start. It’s difficult to be free, to play like you normally play in your club team. I just want to start becoming more a part of the Australian team,” he said. “I think the more time you play with the team the more you know teammates and better and everything starts to click. I’ve had a little bit of an injury so I haven’t been training for two weeks and this is another thing that I have been thinking about – trying to get fit enough for this game, because in the Australian team everyone works hard.”
Giannou is one of many Australians who’ve recently joined the Chinese Super League, and while he’s yet to score for the legendary Dragan Stojkovic at Guangzhou R&F, he’s staying upbeat.