The lead-up to the match against South Korea couldn’t have been smoother. There was the minor occurrence of some substantial cash stolen from some players at their hotel, however that doesn’t appear to have shaken the team in the least.
The Greek side have had some great practices this week and have been greeted by many supporters in South Africa. A couple of big events that involved local Greeks showed just how much the national team is revered by those who live outside of Greece.
The good news too was that in sharp contrast to the 1994 World Cup, Greek players only had a couple of public commitments which ensured that the main focus remained on preparing for South Korea.
All of the talk coming out of the Ethniki’s camp has also been promising. South Korea have been widely praised by all who have spoken to the media and one can sense that the players will be taking the Koreans very seriously, which is good, because this is arguably the best ever South Korean team.
We can speculate on what Otto has in mind for the 11 who will start on Saturday, however there is really no telling what the German will do. Those who have followed him closely during his Greek tenure will know that he likes to stay consistent, but that he also has the tendency to surprise on the big occasion. His starting lineup for the opener of Euro 2004 comes to mind when he famously fielded two up front which confounded the critics and went against all who predicted the team would play with a single forward.
Now everything points to using three center-backs against South Korea, with Kostas Katsouranis switching from his usual spot in the center of midfield to the libero position just behind center-backs Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos. This has been the system that has been seen at training all week. However, is this another trick of the old fox? Perhaps. Or perhaps this is just another example of pragmatic Rehhagel insisting that we’ll give you our playbook and still manage to beat you.
Questions abound on what formation will be used. The 5-3-2 is considered the most likely, the exact system used against Ukraine in the second leg of the qualifying play-off. I guess I would not be completely averse to starting with such a system, cautious as it is. It may seem ultra-defensive, but in reality it caters to our counter-attacking side. When the wing-backs join the attack as well it really turns into a 3-5-2.
Many have lambasted Rehhagel for sticking with out of form players such as Charisteas for the big matches or being too rigid in his tactics. I for one though wouldn’t rule out the German springing a surprise either in formation (4-3-3 maybe) or personnel (Ninis as his secret weapon in a midfield or wide position).
Keys To Victory
‘Oi arxh einai to hmisu to pantos’ as we say in Greek. Roughly speaking, half the battle is won in the beginning. We need to start well against South Korea, impose our own tempo and not be caught on the back foot.
Looking back at the Paraguay friendly from 10 days ago, the lesson to be learned was that a team needs to be 100% focused from the start especially at the World Cup because otherwise you will be punished. Against the Paraguayans the players entered the match sleepwalking and were down 2-0 within 25 minutes. This is a nightmare scenario that could repeat itself against a very good South Korean side if we are not careful.
Against Ukraine away in our play-off we started brightly and showed our intent to attack and score the vital goal from the start, while at the same time being completely concentrated on not giving away anything cheap at the back.
We must defend well, however we must also attack. In our Euro 2008 opener against Sweden, we wasted time by playing the ball back and forth amongst our defenders and paid for those negative tactics in the end. Greece are a defensive side, though the secret to their success in recent years has been to push forward when the opportunity arises and take the match to other teams, especially on counter-attacks.
Finally, the main key for me is that we display passion and desire. When we give everything I truly believe we can challenge any team in the world on the right day, when we fall short of complete and total dedication to the cause we become a rather ordinary side. Ordinary sides lose their World Cup matches 4-0, 4-0, and 2-0 like we did in 1994.
What To Expect
So, with only a few hours remaining from this momentous occasion in our football history, what will we see from our team? Honestly I don’t know. There are many who have predicted another poor tournament for Greece insisting that the quality, commitment, and character isn’t there from the coach down through the players.
Time will tell, though for the time being consider me a believer. I believe we can make some noise at this tournament. I believe that we will turn heads during this competition once again. In order for this to happen we need to reach the maximum of our abilities in each match, ensure that we eliminate silly mistakes at the back and find the heart to battle until the end.
For me this tournament is about creating a basis for the future. A goal, a point, and perhaps a win will begin to give us some sort of positive history in this competition of which we currently have none. After the debacle of 1994, this feels like our first real World Cup tournament.
So, my goals are set low if you consider that with a single goal scored, one of my objectives for success in this tournament will have been met. Not that I am against a little dreaming though.
And that is exactly what we get to do on Saturday. For 90 minutes we will support, shout, encourage, probably curse, but we will also dream.
All the talk of formations, tactics, and who is playing will be thrown out the window a few minutes after kick-off in one sense. Because that’s when the dreaming takes over, the point when the atmosphere and the pride and love you have for your country makes you hope for something that many tell you is not possible.
The Greek nation could do with a little cheering up, with a little dreaming. All of us Greeks could do with a little hope and that is why we will tune in on Saturday. Win, lose, or draw, when we speak again after the match let’s hope that at the very least we have something to be proud of, something to give ourselves a reminder of what Greeks can accomplish with hard-work, determination, passion, commitment, and yes, a little dreaming. Good luck to all of our players and coaches. Let’s shock them all again! PAME PALIKARIA!
Let’s hear from you my faithful readers! Will we do it? What are you thinking and feeling ahead of this huge opening match against South Korea?