A long time ago I remember someone asking me what is worse, to have no chance at winning or to have the potential and have it go unfulfilled. Itās a sort of which came first the chicken or the egg in sporting terms and I never really knew what the answer was until Greeceās defeat to South Korea. To my little brain and corresponding intellect it is clear now that having the potential and not being able to utilize it correctly is something that can just eat the life right out of you.
Iām not insinuating in the least that I was waiting for Greece to win the World Cup. The Euro 2004 victory was something that happens possibly once (Iām hoping more like 2-3 times though) in a lifetime, though I cringe when people say it was a fluke. To suggest that is to really not have a clue about football, again thatās the opinion of your correspondent.
I was however 100% certain that we had a chance to progress to the next round. A chance. This team has potential and that is why both the result and perhaps more so the performance on Saturday against the Koreans was what hurt the most. I have never suggested that Greece play the best football, however there are times that this team, this current side, have shown that they can play decent football. Yes, it is of the defend like hell counter-attack type, but we have produced some good performances from this.
Okay Tsitsonis, whatās your point youāll be saying and you have a point so here it goes. I am a believer in the ability to rebound from the worst of situations. Football is not more important than life or death to disagree with the great Shankly, but it is a big part of a lot of our lives.
So, as fans who have a team go to the World Cup and who have spent the last days, weeks, months, and years waiting for this moment we are entitled to a few things from our team regardless of whether they are expected to win the whole thing or merely be glad they are there.
I canāt say that I represent all Greek supporters, but I have spoken with and heard from so many of them that I believe the following is close to what many are feeling and hoping.
THIS IS WHAT WE WANT
There are a few things that we want from the Nigeria game from the coaches and players.
For starters, we want Otto Rehhagel to put a team out on the field that will give us a chance to perform well, be competitive, and possibly win. There are millions of Greeks fans who will each have their own idea of how we should play. I realize Rehhagel canāt please us all. Iām okay with the fact that the starting 11 I have in my head might not be the one that is found on the pitch, BUT we at least deserve a system that makes sense, one that has been tried and tested, one where players can perform at their best.
Loukas Vyntra has received the āRobert Greenā treatment from media and supporters alike in the last few days. He had a poor match, but he was also placed as a center-back (not his natural position) next to Avraam Papadopoulos. How many official matches or training sessions have those two played together? I donāt know the exact number, but itās close to 0.
When you want to take off Giorgos Karagounis at halftime, shouldnāt he be replaced by a creative midfielder to help dictate Greek attacks?
Why then is defensive midfielder Christos Patsatsoglou brought on? Isnāt Sotiris Ninis the natural replacement to Karagounis from anyone else in the squad? Why is Ninis even in South Africa is he doesnāt come on in that situation? Since he didnāt come on for Karagounis then why wouldnāt the young talent be subbed for Charisteas instead of honest, but limited Pantelis Kapetanos, who himself was being played out of position.
We were losing the match and creating nothing, so instead of hoofing up long balls and hoping for the best why not bring in one of the few players who can add that bit of energy and creativity to the fold? Maybe Ninis would have done nothing, too in awe of the big stage. But there is a chance he would have done something and perhaps been the spark needed to bring life back into the team. His inclusion would have been logical when we get right down to it.
The fact that Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos didnāt play was also eye-opening. After both enjoyed good seasons with Liverpool and Genoa respectively I couldnāt wait to see them in South Africa. Yes I know, Kyrgiakos is a tad slow and is prone to some hard tackles, but does South Korea score their opener with him defending? Maybe, but possibly not.
His main strength is taking care of situations like that such is his aerial prowess. Papastathopoulos meanwhile may be younger and not as experienced, but he is an emerging talent and had the speed to stay with the Koreans, which was one reason Rehhagel gave for playing Vyntra, his speed (????).
Other mistakes were made too in my opinion, some Iām sure were clear-cut and affected the match, others perhaps just based on my own preferences.
Football is ultimately won on the pitch though and while Iāve had quite a go at Rehhagel and rightfully so I believe, the attitude of the players on Saturday made me want to take off my Greek shirt for the first time ever. I didnāt, but literally tears of anger came to my eyes by what I saw. Every single thing we did was half-hearted. It was a display that could only be described as poor and indifferent.
So, lads we, or I, if no one is still with me have some things we want you to do.
How about some intensity? How about some heart? How about some realization that this is the World Cup? How about some consideration that there are fans who have spent thousands of Euros to come see you in a time of great economic crisis? How about some consideration of the millions of Greeks in Greece and across the world who woke up at all hours of the day and were waiting for you all to play for the shirt.
And thatās just it. You donāt have to win. You donāt have to be Brazil or even Ghana for godās sake. You just have to care. All we want to see is that you care as much about being on the pitch as we care about watching you be there.
When the national anthem is sung, I want to see the pride in your eyes if not all of you in full voice knowing that every Greek is hanging on the edge of their seat wishing you well and hoping for the best.
This is not meant to be a motivational speech, what I am writing are the things that I want to witness when our team takes the field. We are not going to win every match and no one expects that, but you canāt hide on the pitch. Fans are smart enough to know when a team have given their all and when they have shown up and ran around a bit before heading back to the locker room.
After the match against Nigeria, the only thing I want at the end of the 90 minutes is the sense that āyeah the boys gave it their allā. Anything more would be a fantastic bonus, anything less would make this existing wound deeper and more painful.
Three days remain and I am starting to regain a little bit of hope thanks to that darn optimism problem I have spoken about before. I just pray that Rehhagel and the players give us reason to believe in them again.