What could have been? Perhaps that would be the title of the official DVD of Greece's 2010 World Cup adventure. There would have been no shame in finishing third in a group featuring Argentina, South Korea, and Nigeria, three nations with much greater World Cup pedigree than us.
That said, the way things came about there was a real sense of disappointment, especially when talk begins about the opener against South Korea. Everything in that match went wrong. Otto Rehhagel was absolutely wrong in the way he put out the team, going away from previous formations and lineups and taking a giant risk in hopes it would pay off. It didn't.
It was so odd to wake up and not see Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Sotiris Kyrgiakos in the starting eleven. The center back duo of Avraam Papadopoulos and Loukas Vyntra was never tried together and then just thrown on the field in hopes things would work out. Is that how you win matches on the grandest stage of them all? I don't think so.
Aggelos Charisteas was also on the field in that match and judging by his recent performances at club level he really shouldn't have been starting a World Cup match, especially in the right side of a three-man attack. Charisteas should always be central so as to utilize one of his main strengths, his aerial ability. Greek fans were bewildered when Rehhagel insisted on playing 'Chari' on the right.
It was sad to see Charisteas being giving so much stick in the last couple of years after all he has offered the national team in his career, but Rehhagel again was to blame for this by playing him in a position where he had no chance of offering much.
I won't pick apart every single tactical decision Rehhagel made as I am not the expert on these matters, though it was clear that the German manager made some gigantic mistakes. This was not a South Korean side to fear in the first match, as good as they showed they were, the problem was we never gave ourselves the chance to get something from that game which the majority of us agreed was crucial to advancing to the second round.
The players should not escape unscathed from criticism however as no matter the lineups and tactics and who was and who wasn't playing the least you expect is for the players to leave it all out on the field, sadly the lads seemed resigned to losing and not able to muster much in terms of heart and fight.
That all changed against Nigeria, thanks perhaps to a slice of luck that comes to you only once in a great while. Keita's kick out on Torosidis with the Nigerians leading 1-0 was finally the one moment that changed Greek football's inability to do something positive at the World Cup.
Still, even though we were fortunate for that to happen, you still have to go out and show you can turn the match around. And boy did we ever. With a better formation and lineup, and with renewed belief and verve, the players conjured up a display to remember showing that they were not only capable of playing good football but of also turning a match around. Rehhagel also came to "play" in that match setting up the team very well and making inspired substitutions that helped sway the match in our favor after the red card.
We will never forget the goals of Salpingidis and Torosidis and the joy they gave us. It was a match to remember and for me at least something I will always cherish.
We proceeded to lose to Argentina 2-0 playing an ultra-defensive formation and style. I am not anti this in some cases. One of the beauties of football for me is the various styles, attacking and defensive. However I do believe that for a half or a little bit more you can play trying to keep it at 0-0, but at some point you have to try and open up and really go for it. We never did that and there was perhaps a bit of sadness even though we were playing one of the better teams in the tournament and in the world for that matter.
There was no shame in being in the 75th minute of our third game with a chance to qualify still for the knockout rounds, but it wasn't to be and perhaps we didn't quite deserve it over the course of three matches. The Nigeria win was great, however there were missed opportunities in the South Korea match and the Nigeria game where another goal would have tipped goal difference in our favor and maybe changed things a little bit.
So, as it was we were out, with our heads held high though. I always wear a Greek jersey when travelling and I knew that the performances at the World Cup would ensure I could wear the jersey with pride. Not that I wouldn't have pride regardless of the results in South Africa, however you have that extra sense of joy and satisfaction when the team have performed well.
The future is bright, though be warned you are being told that by a ridiculously optimistic person.
The Greek National Team returned to Greece after the World Cup to an airport where some 50 fans were waiting to cheer them on. It was a nice touch, something akin to gentle clapping after one of the parts of a play at a theater. There was widespread thanks to the lads for giving us our first World Cup goals and victory. Everyone, including the players, were probably thinking the same thing and that is we could have done a little bit more.
Still, the embarassment of returning without having scored again would have been disastrous to the psyche of Greek football. The next World Cup we qualify for (please, don't make us wait 16 years again!) we will have virtually a clean slate, we got our goal finally and our first win, now let's just go out and play and see what hapens.
GOODBYE OTTO AND THANK YOU
So as was speculated, Otto Rehhagel resigned immediately after the defeat to Argentina. His tenure as national team boss will be written as they say in Greece "with gold letters". The German in his 9-year reign did the unthinkable and it may not be what you think as I am not talking about winning Euro 2004.
The unthinkable and the thing I will always be thankful for was that Rehhagel managed to unite the Greek National Team and make it something special, something that every Greek player wanted to be a part of.
Over the years, I can't tell you how many interviews or tidbits I saw where any given player used the word "family" in an interview. Rehhagel made this team into a family, whereas before there was plenty of talent and ability but no unity in the team.
Club allegiances came second best during the Rehhagel era as he was a manager who commanded respect.
Over the years, criticism of Rehhagel grew in many quarters as fans became disillusioned with the team's defensive style and his insistence on playing certain players, many out of position. Still, the results show that Rehhagel was by far the most successful Greek coach and the hope is that his ability to build a team able to challenge and beat the best will have been the time when Greek football was taken out of the international football doldrums.
The man deserves our praise and thanks, regardless of whether we agreed with some of his decisions. He led the side to 3 of 4 major tournaments, miraculously winning Euro 2004 and taught us a little about being German while he became a bit Greek himself. Thank you Otto and Giannis Topalidis, his loyal assistant, you gave us memories that we'll keep forever.
Okay, I know I have to wrap this up, but as I said I have a real sense of anticipation for the future. While we say goodbye Otto, we say hello Fernando. Fernando Santos, the Portuguese boss, has been appointed as Greek National Team coach just a week or so after Rehhagel left the job.
I am completely behind this appointment and I truly believe that Santos will build on the foundation that Rehhagel built. For starters, Santos has indicated he will have be taking a hands-on approach to this job. Unlike Rehhagel, Santos will live in Greece most of the time and also be involved with youth teams at the National Team level. The former PAOK, AEK, and Panathinaikos manager also has the luxury of knowing Greek football inside and out, including the players and how certain systems work in Greece. Rehhagel was a bit more detached and while he attended matches here and there, you rarely saw him until the team had a match.
Santos has made it clear that he respects Rehhagel, but that he will be different in the way he approaches the job. In Santos, we have another defensive coach. I believe that is good, we can't just change our entire game just like that. Still, I believe that Santos will be more tactically flexible that his predecessor and the main advantage he holds is that he knows so many of these Greek players, many of whom he has coached. At the very least, we should see players in the positions they should be playing in.
We wish Santos the best of luck in the job. He enjoys my support from the start and I really believe he could continue building on Rehhagel's success, but perhaps by going about it in a different manner.
Lastly, I wanted to say thank you to all of you who have read my blog during the tournament. You have visited and survived through my writing and long-windedness. I am sorry if I rambled on, but my favorite team is not a club, it's Greece!
Your comments, supportive and not have helped give me energy and reason to continute writing and I thank you so much for visiting this site when there could millions of other things you could be doing.
I hope that we meet again, perhaps in these same pages for the Euro 2012 tournament! That is if Greece qualify and if I can manage to trick ESPN Soccernet into letting me write again.
Please don't hesitate to get in touch with me if you ever want to discuss the Greek National Team or if you are interested in hiring a writer who may lack a little in quality, but makes up for it with effort. I can be reached at email@example.com.
I also have a blog I devote some time to which covers all things football, big and small, with a focus on the small. The blog is called One Game, One World (http://onegameoneworld.wordpress.com)
Thank you once again for visiting and I look forward to seeing and hearing from you again in the future. All the best!