For the first time ever, Greece has advanced to the 2nd round of the World Cup by wrapping up a dramatic 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast. That day, everyone on my street knew I was Greek! What bothered me, though, is what I heard from a lot of Greece “fans” through two games – that the team didn’t care; or they were too busy partying in Brazil; or they were smoking too many tsigara. Shame on you. In reality, this team has been fighting hard since day one. Two unlucky goals against Colombia and an early red card against Japan derailed their game plans entirely; and despite two early injuries versus Ivory Coast, Greece was able to fight through the hot, humid weather in Fortaleza, Brazil to secure a place amongst the top 16 teams in the world. Congratulation to our Patriotes for making Greeks all around the world proud!
Greece played their best game so far in the World Cup against Ivory Coast, and they seemed to be in control of the tempo for most of the game. Coach Santos finally went with some younger players and they made all the difference. Making their first World Cup appearances were Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, who started at left-forward, and Andreas Samaris, who replaced an injured Kone in the midfield and ended up scoring Greece’s first goal.
The game against Ivory Coast showed me this:
1. Greece has two world class center-backs in Papastathopoulos and Manolas. These guys keep making plays after plays and shut down two good Ivory Coast forwards, Drogba and Gervinho.
2. Samaras, although slow, is our best option at center forward right now. He was moved from left-forward to replace Mitroglou/Gekas in the middle and it paid off. It’s clear that Mitroglou isn’t himself and Gekas, well, is Gekas. Why is Gekas on the team again?
3. Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Andreas Samaris need to start. These guys gave new life to a struggling Greek team and it’s time for them to shine. I’ll say it again; it’s time to put the old guys on the bench.
4. I now understand why Cholevas is starting at left-defense, and it’s not for his defensive skills. He is a counter-attacking machine and sets up a lot of Greece’s attacks.
5. The opportunities to score will be plentiful, as long as Greece goes with the right lineup. On top of the two goals scored, Greece hit the goal post three times and Karagounis missed the corner of the goal by 2 feet off a set piece.
6. As much as I love Karagounis’ heart, he clearly showed his age (37) this last game. Perhaps he would have been replaced if Greece wasn’t forced to make two early substitutions, but then that in itself is a reason why he shouldn’t start; He’s a much better late game player off the bench.
7. Greece lost when Katsouranis started against Colombia; Greece tied when he was ejected with a red card against Japan; and Greece won when he didn’t play against Ivory Coast. Guess which 35-year-old I hope isn’t in the starting lineup against Costa Rica?
Greece has a tough match up coming up, no doubt. The Greeks have had a hard enough time scoring in general, and now they have to do it against a team that deploys 5 defenders. The starting lineup will once again play a crucial role, and I hope Santos opts to go with the same group he started against Ivory Coast. Panagiotis Kone, however, is injured and will likely miss the remainder of the tournament. The goalie, Karneszis, is expected to return to the starting lineup. So far in practice this week, signs are pointing with Santos using the same lineup so let’s cross our fingers.
Here is the starting lineup from last game and what I hope the changes are (if any):
Salpingidis (I still want to see Fetfatzidis here, but that likely won’t happen. Maybe as a sub.)
* Please no Gekas, ever!
Karagounis (I would like Tachtsidis to start over him, but in the end I’m OK with this.)
Kone (Injured and will likely be replaced by Samaris.)
* Please no Katsouranis!
Like Hercules and his Labors, Greece has been confronted with some daunting tasks in this World Cup. But where other teams would give up, Greece kept fighting. Some of the difficult circumstances the Greeks were forced to face are:
1. Two unlucky goals against Colombia to set Greece back early in the game.
2. Injury to Mitroglou early in the game against Japan, forced Greece to make an early substitution.
3. Katsouranis red card against Japan forced Greece to play with only 10 players for most of the game.
4. Injuries to Kone and the goalkeeper, Karnezis, early in the game against Ivory Coast forced Greece to make two early, unneeded substitutions.
Despite all of this, Greece was able to advance to the round of 16 where they will play Costa Rica in their first elimination match. This round of the World Cup is different from the group stage in that there are no more ties allowed – someone has to move on. If a game is tied after 90 minutes, there will be two more 15-minute periods added to regulation. If the game is still tied after 120 minutes, then the winner will be decided by penalty kicks. Winner moves on to the round of eight.
Greece and Costa Rica have never met before, so this is their first game playing one another. “Los Ticos”, as they are called, are the biggest surprise of the World Cup so far. In a group with England, Italy and Uruguay, they were all but written off until they shocked the world by advancing to the 2nd round. Not only did they advance, but they won their group by beating both Uruguay (3-1) and Italy (1-0), and finishing in a tie (0-0) with England. They deploy 5-4-1 formation (5 defenders, 4 midfielders, 1 forward) which means their focus is on minimizing the attacking opportunities of their opponents, so Greece’s forwards will have their hands full.
“Los Ticos” not only won the 2013 Copa Centroamerikana (tournament amongst Central American teams), but they also beat USA (3-1) and Mexico (2-1) in the CONCACAF group to qualify for the World Cup. Their most dangerous player is Joel Campbell; he is a 22-year-old forward that plays for Greece’s very own Olympiakos. He has scored 10 goals in 36 international matches, has started all three games for Costa Rica in the group stage of the World Cup and scored a goal against Uruguay.
Greece’s next game against is on Sunday, June 29 at 4:00 PM EST. Luckily its late enough in the afternoon so you super fans can still make it to church and light a candle.
Thanasi Papoulias is a guest writer for The Pappas Post.