KOREA REPUBLIC 2
J.S. Lee 7, J.S. Park 52
Six years ago, Greece shocked the footballing world when Otto Rehhagel led them to European Championship glory. Few eyebrows were raised when Greece failed to build on this unprecedented success and establish themselves as a major player in world football, but the manner of their decline has been almost as mystifying as their conquering of Portugal. After an insipid display against an impressive Korea Republic side, it will take performances of Homeric proportions against Nigeria and Argentina for Greece and Rehhagel to avoid yet another first round exit.
While the Greek do still lack the household names synonymous with more illustrious opponents, it is the dissolution of a once impenetrable defensive unit that looks set to curtail hopes of World Cup success. Players such as Traianos Dellas, one of the outstanding players of the 2004 tournament, are no longer there to martial the Greek back-line, an observation that could hardly have been more evident in today’s defeat. The watertight unit of six years ago have now sprung major leaks as the Koreans took full advantage of Greeks bearing gifts, in the form of an inadvertent assist in each half. One can only imagine Rehhagel’s frustration, one of International football’s most tactically astute Coaches, at watching his side concede from a 6th minute set piece – Kostas Katsouranis’ uninspired flick-on was emblematic of the Greek side post 2004: naive.
Their prowess from set-pieces was arguably the largest contributory factor to their success of 2004, and it comes as no surprise that the inability of the current crop to provide a potent threat from, or defend resolutely against, dead-ball situations has coincided with a stark loss of form. Charisteas, the goalscorer in the final against Portugal, has seen his individual star wane. Following another poor season domestically, Rehhagel kept faith in the 30-year-old front man, a faith that appeared increasingly bizarre as the match progressed. Charisteas has not found the net for Greece since October 2008 and looked toothless throughout.
Greece would have had to have gone some distance to start the second as poorly as they finished the first, yet Lukas Vyntra’s 52nd-minute lapse in concentration secured this unenviable acclamation. His dallying on the ball allowed Park Ji-Sung to dance through the static Greek back-line and double South Korea’s advantage. Admittedly, Greece improved towards the end of the second-half, but their attackers failed to reduce the deficit as South Korea ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. With two group games remaining, Greece are by no means out of the tournament, yet they must hope that elusive bolt of lightning defies all odds and strikes once more.