On the eve of Greece’s first World Cup match, I can’t help but feel anxious; not only for the competition, but for our patrida in general. Greece could use some good news to offset all of the nonsense and negative energy in the press these days. And what better way to do that than with the Greek National Soccer Team.
This is only the third time Greece has ever qualified for the World Cup since the National Team was founded in 1926, the first being the horrendous appearance in the 1994 World Cup where they conceded 10 goals and lost all 3 group stage games against Argentina, Nigeria and Bulgaria. In the 2010 World Cup, their second appearance, Greece earned their first-ever World Cup victory against Nigeria, but with losses to both South Korea and Argentina, Greece was once again eliminated in the group stage.
So what does 2014 have in store for the Greeks? For Greek soccer fans the pre-tournament expectations have never been higher. Greece will be facing Columbia, Japan and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in the group stage, and they have a very good chance to move on to the 2nd Round. Critics of the team, however, are worried about which players Fernando Santos (coach) will decide to put on the field. Historically, Santos has always favored veteran players, but it can be argued that Greece’s best players this year are the youngsters.
Here are the critical success factors for Greece to advance far in this year’s World Cup:
For the first time in modern history, Greece has the ability to scare other teams with their offense. There is a big question mark with Greece’s best striker though, Kostas Mitroglou. He’s been in somewhat of a slump lately, primarily due to coming off of a knee injury in January. He is by far the fiercest weapon Greece has (when healthy) and was responsible for 3 of the 4 goals in two games versus Romania to qualify for the World Cup. If Greece wants to move on, they need Mitroglou to be in prime form.
It’s no secret that Santos loves to play the veteran players, but there are a few players challenging the validity of that decision. Ioannis Fetfatzidis has burst onto the soccer scene and his ball-handling skills have been compared to that of soccer great Lionel Messi. At 23 years old, he has not only made the Greek National Team, but he will be challenging Dimitrios Salpingidis for playing time at Right Forward. He’s no lock to start, but Santos would be foolish not to give Greece’s opponents a dose of this guy. He has the ability to make something happen anytime he touches the ball. Another youngster you should hope to see is Panagiotis Kone in the midfield. He isn’t the youngest at 26, but he’s competing against other midfielders that are in their 30’s for playing time. He is an attacking midfielder that has good control of the field, great vision and can finish an attack anytime he’s around the box.
In the first of three friendly games leading up to the World Cup, our best defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was injured during the game and did not play in either of the final two friendlies. Rumor has it that he’s ok and will start, but he may be rusty. Greece will need to rely heavily on him to keep opposing attacks at bay, especially since Greece is already without the services of Kyriakos Papadopoulos who did not make the team this year due to injury.
Greece’s first game is against Columbia is on Saturday, June 14 at 12:00 PM EST. Luckily for Greece, Columbia will be without the services of Ramadel Falcao, one of the top players in the world, who is out because of an injury. It going to be a tough match-up, but with the right line-up Greece can definitely pull it off!
Thanasi Papoulias is a guest writer for The Pappas Post