Greece Camp Focus – Greek World Cup hopes hang by a thread

A dejected Greece side returned to their base camp in the knowledge they had been thoroughly outplayed by Korea Republic at the weekend. They now face a monumental task to stay in the World Cup and must beat Nigeria on Thursday to have any chance of prolonging their stay in World’s premier event.

Memories of USA 94 must have come back haunt the nation after their wretched opening game. Sixteen years ago the side had qualified for their first World Cup, only to be sent packing from the group stages, failing to find the net once and conceding ten goals. It would be a brave person who bet against a repeat performance after the tired and incoherent showing against South Korea. The team spirit and organization of the unlikely Euro 2004 triumph seems to have completely deserted the team, despite Otto Rehhagal’s attempts at continuity. Despite this, optimistic sentiments were aplenty from the Greece camp, captain Yiorgos Karagounis claiming the teams’ raison d’etre was to enjoy the World Cup in the face of crippling economic crisis back home. The side’s showing on Saturday could not have done more to betray this mood, as the Greek side appeared to be in some disarray.

After the game both coach and players admitted the defeat had been a very poor showing, but maintained qualification against the odds was still very much the intention: “We are hoping for the best. There are two more games, difficult games, against tough countries, but we will do our best” forward Georgios Samaras said after the game before admitting that his sides’ own mistakes had in the end cost them the game: “They are of course a good team, but I think in the end we lost due to our own mistakes. We lost those two goals and didn’t take our chances.”

Lack of planning and ill preparation seem to be factors that will continue to hamper Greek chances. Their system appeared ill equipped to cope with the Korean approach, and they were constantly a man down in the centre of midfield. Their fitness levels were not where they needed to be as their way of playing requires much self-sacrifice and running without the ball. This is amplified when playing against a team with the energy levels of South Korea and perhaps partly due to their curtailed World Cup preparations – after the delayed finish to the domestic season – they were simply not ready for the test that faced them on Saturday. The personnel at Rehhagal’s disposal also appear inadequate at this level and his midfield did not have the creative element needed in order to give the opposition problems. During their triumph at Euro 2004, one of their players of the tournament was Theo Zagorakis who pulled the strings in the centre of the pitch. Since he retired in 2007, nobody has stepped up adequately to fill this role. King Otto is in desperate need of someone to provide inspiration, but currently, it would appear that nobody in the Greece squad looks able to step up and provide this.

However, if hope can be found anywhere, it surely in the shape of Sotiris Ninis. The young Albanian born midfielder, bafflingly, remained on the bench during Greece’s opener, and surely the player who three years ago won Greece’s footballer of the year at the tender age of 17 should now be given the chance to turn around his countries fortunes. If Greece are to have any hope at all of staying in South Africa beyond next week, they should probably forget they have still to face Messi and co. and instead focus on the paucity of their opponents on Thursday. Nigeria were fortunate to lose by only one goal against Argentina in their opening group match, who could well have gone on the rampage had Messi had his shooting boots on. In their opening game, Nigeria constantly gifted space behind the midfield and in front of their defence to Messi who had a lot of joy with probing runs from deep. Not, of course, that Greece have anyone that compares in any way with the World Player of the year, but if Samaras, Gekas or even Ninis can show a bit of cunning and find good positions in front of Nigeria’s defence, they may just make a game of it.

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