Otto Rehhagel provided Greece with a starting eleven whose job was clear as day, keep the score 0-0. Argentina are blessed with attacking riches that few sides in the world possess and the German’s hope was perhaps to keep the match scoreless and knick something on the counter-attack. We all knew what to expect from the starting whistle and knew it would be 90 minutes of anxious moments with Argentina doing most of the attacking.
The first half went directly to plan. Argentina had their chances, but in their way they found 10 men who were committed to fight and scrap for every inch. If Argentina found their way past those 10, which they certainly did on a few occasions then there stood Alexander Tzorvas. Much maligned for his hand in the goals we conceded in this tournament, Tzorvas was stunning against Argentina pulling off a serious of top drawer saves that proved that Greece will have a fantastic shot-stopper between the posts in the years to come. If Tzorvas can somehow become a bit more adept at crosses into his box then he will offer even more confidence.
In a few short minutes at the start of the second half, things began to unravel and in my opinion determined the outcome of the match. For starters, Giorgos Karagounis was taken off due to an injury, his replacement was left back Nikos Spyropoulos which means that Vasilis Torosidis moved from left back into the midfield. Then in the 48th minute, the big chance that we all desired finally came. Giorgios Samaras beautifully took down a long pass and found himself one on one with his defender. His first shot was blocked by the defender, but the rebound was kind and with the goalkeeper out of position, Samaras took a shot at the far post and went inches wide. If he had shot near post then this article might have had a different tone.
Just two minutes later, Kostas Katsouranis picked up an injury and had to go off. Rehhagel threw on Sotiris Ninis in his place. Then as luck would have it, just seconds later Greece were forced into another substitution as Torosidis was hurt and had to leave the game. This was my only issue with Rehhagel yesterday. Instead of putting on Fanis Gekas or Dimitris Salpingidis, Christos Patsatsoglou was preferred, ‘Patsa’ is honest enough of a defensive midfielder, but we had used three subs and in reality had only two clear offensive players on the pitch in Samaras and Ninis.
Predictably we were unable to offer much in attack and Argentina wore us down and finally scored through DeMichelis on 77 minutes. The goal itself could have been disallowed for a foul in the lead-up though this World Cup has clearly shown that there is no rhyme or reason to what gets called in the box. I know it’s a tough job, but it is also frustrating to see that.
1-0 down you could almost see the hope disappearing from the players’ eyes, but to the credit of these heroes they kept fighting to the end. It was inspiring to see from a Greek point of view.
To All The Detractors
For all of those that have railed against Greece for the way they played I have nothing to say besides we just don’t give a damn anymore. New Zealand defend for 90 minutes against Italy and receive nothing but praise for their courage, while Italy themselves defend like hell for an entire tournament (2006 World Cup) and receive nothing but positive headlines that talk about defensive mastery and wonderful rearguard play. It’s the same for many other smaller sides and bigger ones, however for some reason with Greece because this has been a system that has been put to use for years there is nothing but criticism.
The criticism is deserved in some cases like the Euro 2008 opener against Sweden when we didn’t try to play football. I was the first to criticize then as I thought it was shambolic that the player’s were content to pass the ball back and forth in the defensive third for minutes on end. In those situations I can see why there would be yelling and screaming about that style. However these matches are the exception. In most cases Greece try and play, yes Rehhagel has a defense-first mindset, but there has also been a real focus on counter-attacking during his tenure.
The supremely talented guy that writes the Argentina blog on Soccernet here also had a go. The only thing I want to say is that this argument has no basis anymore. I’m sure that many Argentine fans and perhaps neutrals wanted us to open up and have Messi score a couple right off the bat so the backheels and trick plays could come out. Some people have criticized us for not doing enough offensively to warrant winning the match.
That perhaps is a worthwhile argument, but I’ll take any team that digs its heels in against more talented position to grind out a result. Which match did you enjoy seeing more Brazil-North Korea 2-1 or Portugal-North Korea 7-0? To me the answer will always be the former. Can Switzerland be faulted for playing the way they did against Spain? If they shouldn’t play like that then perhaps Argentina, Brazil, Spain and whichever other team is playing “good” football at the moment should go off separately and have their own World Cup.
At some point in the future I am hopeful that Greece play a more aesthetically pleasing game. Perhaps the change in coach will produce a system that is more conducive to the neutrals watching. I understand that when people watch football they want to be entertained, however part of the magic of the game is that teams that look inferior on paper can give themselves a shot at winning through good tactics and hard work, sprinkling in some creativity and luck. Some people may call that boring, I on the other hand call it one of the main reasons why I love football so much.
Heads Held High
We exit the tournament with our heads held high, no matter what others say. In this tournament you have seen infighting derail an unbelievably talented team such as France, while a team like England can’t manufacture a clear goalscoring chance against Algeria (no disrespect to them as they played a fantastic game) and have players speaking out at what is being said in the locker room.
Our team had none of that. It would have been easy to fall apart after the disappointment of the South Korea performance and result, but with a slice of luck (Kaita’s red) the lads conjured up a display and victory that will be remembered always and hopefully will provide a foundation for years to come for Greek football.
I will be writing a final piece in the coming days encapsulating all of Greece’s World Cup journey, but for now we sit back and reflect on what has been a successful tournament for us. We took positive steps and improved on our previous performance at the world’s biggest sporting event. We also got to experience the joy, tension, and anticipation of not only being at a World Cup, but having a chance to go through to the next round as late as the 75th minute of our third and final Group Stage match. That is something to be proud of, that and the fact that at the end of the day we know the boys left it all out on the pitch. We can wear our Greek jerseys around with pride more than ever now and for that we are thankful to our Ethniki. See you guys again in a couple days and once again Bravo to our heroes!
Your comments and views are always welcomed, thank you so much for all of them so far. Write in and let me know your feelings on the Argentina match and Greece’s World Cup overall.