Greece Camp Focus – Still an up hill task to qualify

Greece’s World Cup hopes hang over a precipice ahead of vital Group B clash against Argentina. Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, Greece played Argentina in their first ever match at the World Cup finals, but really need not have turned up. Less than two minutes in, Gabriel Batistuta had given the Argentines the lead and the first of four without reply.

It was a goal that set the Greeks off on a run of dismal World Cup performances and one that they perhaps did not recover from until last Thursday afternoon when Dimitris Salpingidis scored his countries first ever goal at a World Cup and sending side on way to a unlikely and fortuitous victory over Nigeria. Diego Maradona scored the first back on that balmy day in Boston and is of course the man in charge of Greece’s final group stage opponents on Tuesday night. Considering the way his side has begun their World Cup campaign, winning both games and scoring eight goals with a show of virtuosity unrivalled so far at the tournament, the test that faces Greece is massive. They must not only win, but win well as if Korea Republic overcome Nigeria by a larger margin, they will usurp Greece in the group. A draw is potentially enough to send them through, should the Nigeria beat Korea, but Otto Rehhagal must look for the continuation of the positive attitude led to the surprise win over the Super Eagles.

A positive attitude permeates the Greek camp and forward Georgios Samaras spoke up his side’s team spirit as the best hope of going forward in the competition: “We are a team and together we try to do the best we can” he said at the post match press conference going on to explain how his side must remain focused, despite the brave and unlikely nature of their win: “We want to enjoy it but there is not time for celebration. We have a flight back to Durban in the morning and then training. We have only four days to prepare for the next game.” When asked if he thought Greece still had a chance to proceed to the knock-out stage he replied: “We have a chance to go to the next round and we will fight for it. A lot of games we play defensive and others we play attacking, some people criticize us but we are positive.” What faces them is a herculean struggle to remain in South Africa and Argentina are clear favourites to knock them out of the tournament.

Yet, Greece may have a chance to make history. Maradona has already suggested he may rest key players for the final group match. The Albicelestes coach will be without two of his 23 “beasts” in Jonas Gutierrez and Walter Samuel and will probably want to wrap up World Footballer of the year, Lionel Messi, in cotton wool ahead of the knock-out stages, protecting him from some industrial Greek tackling. However, as Samaras pointed out at the post match press conference, with Diego Milito and Sergio Aguero likely to feature: “what’s the difference?” A positive spirit will have to combine with strong discipline and probably, a lot of luck, if Greece are to pull off one of the shocks of this, or any other, tournament. Rehhagel has few injury problems to worry him ahead of the tie, but it is unclear whether he will play as attacking a formation against eleven Argentines then he deployed against the ten men of Nigeria. King Otto may have to fight against his defensive instincts and encourage his teams to play positively, taking initiative in attack. Despite the star attacking players Argentina may be missing, a player that Rehhagel should hope not to see when he receives the opposition team sheet is Javier Mascherano. The midfield enforcer probably has no adequate replacement and his absence would be a huge plus to the Greeks, who could then look to exploit the space in front of the defence. A further possible chink in Argentine armour will be the right-back position, questionable at the best of times when manned by Jonas Gutierrez who will miss out through suspension. It is here that Samaras could make a real impact and must look to run with the ball down the left-wing as much as he can. The often criticized striker will have to be at his best, but if he was to inspire his side to an unlikely appearance at the latter stages of the World Cup, he would go a long way to answering his critics.


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