Saturday, 29 May 2010

32 For 2010: Greece

OK, so a 2-2 draw against North Korea is far from ideal preparation for a World Cup tournament but then Greece have made a virtue of taking people by surprise. You do, however, suspect that even the most passionate Greeks will be surprised if the 2004 European champions make it to the second round of the World Cup in South Africa.

Their style of play is well known and, while still very difficult to play against, is not impossible as their failure to emulate their magnificent European Championship success in Portugal demonstrates. In 2004, the uber-organised defence throttled their opponent's attack while hitting them ruthlessly on the counter. These days, the team's tactics are largely unchanged but critics have argued that they're too predictable and the current squad have not been able to emulate their predecessors.

Most of the 2004 squad have, unsurprisingly, moved on. Among them former Bolton player Stelios
Giannakopoulos, legendary goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis plus the centre halves Traianos Dellas and Michalis Kapsis. However Angelos Charisteas (who scored the only goal in the Euro 2004 Final) continues. As does Giourkas Seitaridis, now a veteren with 68 caps.

Other players English fans will be aware of are Liverpool centre half Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Georgios Samaras, once of Manchester City and latterly of Celtic. The rest of the squad seem to be made up mostly of domestic-based players. Whether this will prove to be a strength or weakness remains to be seen.

Greece's top scorer in qualifying was Theofanis Gekas, a player well-known to those who read the Bundesbag as a player who mostly seems to perform well for bad Bundesliga teams. He was the league top scorer in 2007 for Bochum. Recently, he has been seen scratching his head at Berlin's Olympiastadion as he watched Hertha implode. He has just signed for the Frankfurt club where the Bundesbag predicts he'll score loads of goals.

Qualification itself was arduous. After finishing runners-up to Switzerland they had to overcome a tough but dour Ukraine side. Drawn into Group B for the tournament, they face tough challenges against Nigeria, South Korea and Argentina. I personally cannot wait to see what Diego Maradona makes of Greece's defensive tactics and sniff a potential upset. That said, the prospects of a place in the Second Round don't look too favourable.

One crumb of comfort for Greece coach Otto Rehhagel (who masterminded the team's 2004 triumph) is how Inter demonstrated that non-possession football can still win big matches in the Champions League Final last Saturday. Whether Rehhagel's players will have the ability to control the opposition the way Mourinho's men did against Bayern is unlikely. However, the Greeks are passionate about their football and to see them progress would be welcome if not too easy on the eye.

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