Having just turned 20, Sotiris Ninis is the youngest member of the Greece squad. Despite his tender age, though, Ninis fully deserves his place in the team. The Greek Footballer of the Year in 2007 (the youngest ever to win the accolade), he also featured in the team of the tournament at the 2007 UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals, where Greece finished runners-up to Spain.
The precocious Ninis is the holder of several records. As well as being the youngest Greek player to appear in a European competition, he is also the full national side’s youngest ever debutant and scorer, and the youngest player to captain his club, Panathinaikos. To round it all off, he also picked up a Greek Super League winners’ medal with Pana at the end of last season.
Having built up a CV like that, it is little wonder some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs are monitoring his speedy progress.
Born in Albania to Greek parents, the attacking midfielder possesses a dizzying range of skills to go with sublime vision, an electrifying change of pace and fearsome long-range shooting skills. It is those gifts that led to him being fast-tracked through the national youth set-up, and within a year of joining the U-19s he was promoted to the full team for a May 2008 friendly against neighbouring Cyprus.
News of his inclusion aroused great excitement in the Greek media, with Ninis living up to his billing by scoring in a 2-0 win. Yet despite making a flawless debut, Greece’s hottest new prospect missed out on a place at UEFA EURO 2008.
While continuing to show his brilliance for the U-21s, Ninis earned two more call-ups from Otto Rehhagel, but has had his progress checked by a frustrating series of injuries.
His rise at club level was nothing short of meteoric. Given his first start for Pana by Spanish coach Victor Munoz in a league match against Egaleo at the end of 2006, the irrepressible Ninis walked off with the man of the match award. And before the season was out, he had signed a professional contract with the Athens club.
Nevertheless, the following season proved to be one to forget as injuries and selection decisions led to him making just one appearance from the bench, and that in the opening game against Olympiakos. But with his fitness problems seemingly behind him, the richly talented youngster made his presence increasingly felt as Panathinaikos surged to the Greek Super League title last season.
Having regained his place in Rehhagel’s plans, all that remains for him to do now is announce himself to the world at South Africa 2010, a task he seems well capable of fulfilling.