Only the most miserly of football fans could have begrudged Greece’s fairytale European Championship success six years ago, but it’s fair to say that Otto Rehhagel’s side won admirers more through their spirit and endeavour than from their footballing philosophy.
For while Greece were organised, efficient and physical, easy-on-the eye was not a term often used to describe Rehhagel’s champions.
Only once did they manage to score more than one goal a game in the 2004 tournament, with their success coming straight from the George Graham school of gritty 1-0 wins, as France, Czech Republic and finalists Portugal discovered.
And while the personnel may have changed considerably since Theo Zagorakis lifted the Henri Delaunay Trophy, the Greeks’ outlook certainly hasn’t.
They finished second behind Switzerland in a qualifying group also featuring Latvia, Israel, Luxembourg and Moldova, and ground out a 1-0 aggregate victory over Ukraine in the ensuing two-legged play-off. They’ve played only one game since – a 2-0 home loss to Senegal. The ugly Ukraine victory aside, they don’t look like a team capable of causing any further shocks on this occasion.
Euro 2004 match-winner Angelos Charisteas remains but is no longer the goalscoring battering ram of old, having netted only once all season, and instead the burden of expectation will fall on Hertha Berlin’s Theofanis Gekas and Celtic’s Georgios Samaras. Gekas scored just six league goals as his side were relegated from the Bundesliga, while Samaras was unremarkable in a well-documented abject season for the Hoops.
They scored only once in three losses at Euro 2008, and it’s easy to see why Rehhagel places more emphasis on defence over attack. It will certainly make the encounters with their more adventurous Group B rivals Nigeria and Argentina interesting, but with South Korea also looking in good goalscoring nick leading into the tournament, it’s going to take another Greek miracle this time round to simply progress into the last 16.
How do you see the Greeks doing in South Africa? You can back them at 4/7 to exit at the group stage.