It’s been a decade since Greece stunned the giants of Europe to claim the Euro 2004 crown with legendary Otto Rehhagel at the helm. The Greeks are still to ever come close, but in steps Kostantinos ‘Kostas’ Mitroglou.
The former Olympiakos striker had enjoyed a wonderful 2013/14 season until his move to now-relegated Fulham in England. This season with Olympiakos, he became the first Greek to score a UEFA Champions League hat-trick, and he scored 14 goals in 10 matches — including three hat-tricks — in the domestic Super League before his move to England.
Playing for Greece also had it rewards this year for the 26-year-old striker, fondly known as “Mitrogoal” or “Pistolero” by most Greek fans for his gun-toting goal celebrations.
Known for his intelligent movement, strength and powerful shots, the striker notched an impressive 5 goals in 12 qualifiers, three coming in the playoffs, as Greece downed Romania 4-2 on aggregate to make the World Cup party.
Greece has been trying to qualify for the world Mundial since its inaugural edition in 1930, but success was elusive until 1994 in USA when they made their first appearance.
The second did not come until South Africa 2010, and this will be their first back-to-back qualification. They also have not made it past the group stage and Ethniki fans will look to Portuguese coach, Fernando Santos for a Greek miracle.
The former Benfica and Sporting Lisbon coach first stepped into the country in 2001 as coach; and following a successful spell as PAOK Salonica coach from 2007 to 2010, he was handed the opportunity to lead the mythical land of the gods.
Deviating from his predecessor, Rehhagel, Santos refrained from choosing veterans and introduced a number of young players into the side, while also maintaining few established players. One thing he did pick from his predecessor is defensive solidity, while poking any chance the forwards can sniff.
Given the right tactics and with experienced heads Giorgios Samaras, Giannis Maniatis, and established players such as Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Avraam Papadopoulos, Vasilis Torosidis, Greece will be hoping they can write the perfect underdog story once again.
The defence is well-marshalled by the reliable trio of Papastathopoulos, Papadopoulos, and Sokratis. The Greeks conceded just six goals (two in play-offs) in 12 qualifying games to rank as one of the best defences, keeping 7 clean sheets in the process. It will be hoped they continue this impressive statistic in Brazil.
Set-pieces are the team’s major undoing, their inability to defend on free kicks and corners being a huge disadvantage. The Greeks historically don’t score many goals; and unless Mitroglou returns to form in Brazil, there will be dire consequences.
Lack of goals did cost Greece top spot in qualifiers; and if not addressed, it will be their undoing in Brazil; even Zeus will be unable to shoe them over the line, neither will Athena be able to.