Greece plays to its strengths at World Cup

Greece's Kostas Mitroglou, centre, is one of the hottest prospects in world soccer. (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

The Greeks have become synonymous with grinding out results at all costs and proving their critics wrong. For the most part, their games are not entertaining and the team has been harshly labelled as anti-football. That argument is a little weak, as every nation must play to their strengths in order to be successful. Greece is infamously known for their defensive tactics—absorbing pressure, flooding the midfield and hitting back on the counter or from set-pieces. It could be seen as negative, though if it works, why try and be something you’re not? Manager Fernando Santos has infused youth with experience, finding the right mix to be successful, which has resulted in Greece’s second consecutive World Cup appearance.


Goalkeepers: Orestis Karnezis (Granada), Panagiotis Glykos (PAOK), Stefanos Kapino (Panathinaikos)
Defenders: Kostas Manolas (Olympiakos), Giannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Jose Holebas (Olympiakos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Giorgios Tzavellas (PAOK), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Vasilis Torosidis (Roma), Vangelis Moras (Verona)
Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (Kayserispor), Andreas Samaris (Olympiacos), Kostas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Torino), Ioannis Fetfatzidis (Genoa), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna) Panagiotis Kone (Bologna)
Forwards: Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Giorgios Samaras (Celtic), Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham), Theofanis Gekas (Konyaspor)


Being the predecessor to Otto Rehaggel was always going to be a challenging endeavour, but in four years Fernando Santos has done a remarkable job in changing the landscape of Greek football. This will be his third and final tournament as national team manager. The integration of youth within the ranks has provided a solid spine for future success.

Possible formation

4-3-3 (GK) Karnezis – (D) Torosidis, Papastathopoulos, Manolas, Holebas – (M) Tziolis, Karagounis, Maniatis – (F) Salpingidis, Mitroglou, Samaras

Group C schedule

June 14: vs. Colombia in Belo Horizonte
June 19: vs. Japan in Natal
June 24: vs. Ivory Coast in Fortaleza

How they qualified

Normally, if you win eight out of your 10 qualifiers, the expectation of an automatic place at the World Cup is a reasonable notion. However, the Greeks were rather unlucky to finish second—tied with Bosnia and Herzegovina on 25 points—and ultimately their fate was sealed after a 3-1 defeat in Zenica to the eventual group winners. A playoff home-and-home encounter with Romania followed, and passage to Brazil was achieved 4-2 on aggregate.

Team strengths

The Greeks are well-known defensive specialists (six goals conceded in their 12 World Cup qualifying matches), and place a tremendous amount of emphasis on a collective effort of suffocating their opponents’ forward movement. A solid back four provide the concrete foundation, reinforced by a midfield core that is built to frustrate the opposition and evoke complacency. In essence, Greece is at its best by nature without the ball; disciples of the counterattack, defiantly daring adversaries to try and breach their lines. It may be unattractive in style and heavily criticized for being anti-football, but the objective is to win games—it’s not a beauty contest.

Team weaknesses

Goals, goals and more goals. Greece is notoriously known for their inefficiencies in the offensive zone. To steal a phrase out of a Greek mythology, the inability to score on a consistent basis has ultimately proven to be the teams Achilles heel. Greece only made it on the score sheet 12 times during the group phase of qualification (10 games). Should they concede the opening goal, the probability of victory drastically decreases. Opponents are well aware of the noted weak point.

Players to watch

The theory that defence wins champions is not without merit—as Greece proved a decade ago in Portugal—and is a widely agreed upon notion. Clean sheets are all well and good, but you still need to score goals to be victorious—meaning the importance of Fulham striker Kostas Mitroglou is absolutely vital to the Greek cause. As is the leadership provided by Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who is without a doubt Greece’s best defender. Also, keep an eye on 24 year-old debutant Andreas Samaris—this being his first major international tournament at the senior level. The Olympiacos midfielder has watched his stock rise rapidly following a breakout season.

Burning question?

Was the move to Fulham a mistake by Mitroglou? It might prove to be disastrous for Greece, considering the striker only made three appearances (one start) since making the switch from Olympiacos (14 goals in 12 league fixtures) in January. The club’s record signing was hampered with injuries and suffered numerous setbacks. The sacking of Rene Meulensteen—the man who brought the Greek striker to Craven Cottage—soon after his arrival also played a definitive role in Mitroglou’s lack of playing time, having been deemed unfit by incoming manager Felix Magath. Questions surrounding his overall match-fitness and morale are of significant concern.

Prospects in Brazil

At first glance, Group C might seem somewhat unattractive in comparison to some of the tournaments much sexier groupings. You’d be doing yourself a major disservice by adhering to popular opinion. Absent of a clear favourite, all four participants have a realistic shot at progressing into the knockout stages. Greece could end up finishing first or last, but by my account they will end up somewhere in the middle. Their opener in Belo Horizonte against Colombia is ultimately the definitive fixture, not that Japan and Ivory Coast will be any less of a threat, but beating the Colombians—with or without Radamel Falcao—would place them in an advantageous position. A first round exit would be considered a step backwards by the Greeks, though, expecting anything more than a second round appearance would be unrealistic.

World Cup history

This will be the Greeks’ third World Cup appearance, having debuted at USA ’94, and it took 16 years for them to return onto the world stage. Their inaugural campaign was one to forget; overmatched in every capacity by group opponents Argentina, Bulgaria and Nigeria—three losses, 10 goals conceded and zero goals scored resulted in a quick exit. In South Africa four years ago, the Greeks started poorly (losing to South Korea 2-0), before breaking their World Cup jinx by scoring the nation’s first-ever goal and beating Nigeria 2-1. Unfortunately, only a victory over Diego Maradona’s Argentina would see them progress into the second round—the Greeks lost 2-0.

• 1930—Did not enter
• 1934 to 1938—Did not qualify
• 1950—Did not enter
• 1955 to 1990—Did not qualify
• 1994—First round
• 1998 to 2006—Did not qualify
• 2010—First round

Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States

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