History: The Greeks don’t support austerity, except when it comes to soccer. Greece plays a cynical, moderately effective defensive system, cultivated under their last coach Otto Rehhagel. They unleashed it on a shocked continent at Euro 2004, bookending the tournament with two wins over host Portugal to win their only major tournament. They were 100-1 odds. Similar tactics have been since that triumph and success has been minimal. Outside Euro 2004 the Greeks have lost 10/12 matches at major tournaments and not reached a knockout stage.
Qualification: Greece finished first in Group F, with a 7-0-3 record. They edged second-place Croatia by two points. Greece had the fewest goals scored (14) in 10 matches of any group winner. They tied Denmark (+9) for worst goal difference. The Greeks have lost just one of 18 matches since the 2010 World Cup.
Coach: Otto Rehhagel departed after a ten-year run and left the tiller to 57-year-old Fernando Santos. The Portuguese has extensive experience coaching at club level in both Portugal and Greece. He won a league title and two domestic cups with Porto from 1998 to 2001. He also brought PAOK to the Champions League in 2010.
Squad: Greece’s squad features a couple holdovers from Euro 2004, midfielders Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis. The warhorses have 214 caps and 67 years between them. Though, besides that the team is getting younger. Two budding stars to watch are 20-year-old Schalke defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos (scouted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs) and 22-year-old attacking midfielder Sotiris Ninis. Ninis was left off the Euro 2008 squad played just 41 minutes in South Africa, but should, with Rehhagel no longer an impediment, finally receive his opportunity.
Tactics: The Greeks will still park the bus. They will play a very compact and narrow defense in front of the net, though Santos has added a few twists. Their shape will be a 4-3-3 rather than a 4-5-1 or a 3-4-3. They should also hold the ball more and build up play rather than counterattacking swiftly, directly and rarely. A major problem in recent tournaments has been inflexibility. Their game is predicated on not conceding goals. When they fall behind they can’t transition and crumble. It’s not clear they’ve rectified that.
Fun Fact: Greece does not have a navigable river.
Prognosis: This group is matched evenly. The teams that advance will be the ones that turn stalemates into wins. Greece, without a clear goal scorer, may be the team least equipped to do so.
[Photo via Presswire]