Greece Camp Focus - Greeks ride their luck into the history books with their first ever win at a World Cup
“Tomorrow is our last chance” said Greece midfielder Sotiris Ninis ahead of their vital clash against fellow Group B strugglers Nigeria, but a surprise 2-1 victory to his side means they have earned themselves another.
The young Panathinaikos starlet still could not make the starting eleven however, despite Otto Rehhagel making several changes to the side that had performed so poorly against Korea Republic. By the time he was sent into the action just sort of eighty minutes, Greece were well on their way to victory. Sotiris Kyrgiakos returned to the starting line up and there was a surprise selection in the shape of 21-year-old Socratis Papastathopoulos, added as an auxiliary defender. The personnel was not the only thing to change either, with Greece reverting back to a 3-4-3 formation, utilizing wing-backs and an old fashioned sweeper. The experienced Greece coach had shown little of the guile and cunning that had masterminded that Euro 2004 chances so far in this World Cup and indeed during the warm up games but this was to change after a horrendous goalkeeping mistake by Alexandros Tzorvas gifted Nigeria their opening goal. Greece, one again, seemed to be in complete disarray. Teammates were bickering and Nigeria looked odds on to add to their lead. Minutes later the Greeks were offered a glimmer of hope when Sani Kaita was dismissed by referee Oscar Ruiz for a reckless challenge. Then, the unexpected happened, when just before half-time Dimitris Salpingidis - another of the changes made by Rehhagel - grabbed his side an unlikely equalizer, and his countries first ever goal at a World Cup. It was a transformative goal as Greece began to attack in numbers in search of a winner and suddenly the side appeared the antithesis of the one that had performed so poorly in their opening game. Vasileios Torosidis grabbed the unlikely winner, capitalizing on a mistake by Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
The result goes down as the greatest achievement in the nation’s brief World Cup history. Having played four games in the competition overall, losing all four and failing to score, and given the fact that in their previous four matches, Greece had found the net twice, this has to go down as one of the surprises of the tournament so far, perhaps not on the same scale as Wednesday’s Swiss smash and grab, but a surprise none the less. Credit has to go to the renewed spirit of the Greek team, something that appeared to have deserted them in the opening exchanges. The sending off was undoubtedly the catalyst for the sea-change in their approach to the game, but it still took a great amount of courage and endeavour to overturn the one goal deficit. The tactical decisions of Rehhagel had thus far in this World Cup, also presented little to support the evidence that he is in fact a talented and wily coach. That is until he capitalized on the Nigerian deficiency in numbers and sent on Georgios Samaras an attacker, instead of defender Papastathopoulos in a rare show of attacking initiative. The Celtic forward was very lively, causing the Nigerian defence numerous problems, despite the usual profligacy in his shooting. Of course, luck played a huge part in handing the Greeks their victory and the win was in no small part down to a moment of madness from Nigeria midfielder Kaita, not that this will put a dampener on celebrations in the Greek camp and indeed, across the country.
The result gives the Greeks one further chance to make it into the knock-out stage. Their game with Argentina on Tuesday night now takes on monumental importance and with the possibilities of three teams finishing the group on six points, or indeed three points, goal difference could now play a major part in deciding who proceeds from Group B. They can take heart from knowing that Diego Maradona may choose to rest some of his star names as with their superior goal difference, Argentina are the likely group winners. This should not detract from what will be their sternest test of the World Cup so far. Coming from behind to beat a ten man Nigeria side is an admirable and unexpected feat in itself, but this would pale in comparison to a victory over Maradona’s Argentines, a result that really would rock the world of football.