Unpredictable side

Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos... player to watch.-AP

The austerity measures forced on Greece, which has been at the centre of the European debt crisis the last few years, appear to have had its effect on its national football team too.

The side has been so miserly in scoring goals on the road to the World Cup, putting in just 12 in its 10 qualifiers, that not many relish watching Greece in action. The team frequently comes up with a choking defence and German coach Joachim Loew once said that playing Greece was “like biting on a rock”.

Greece is also a very unpredictable side — dull one day like many of its World Cup qualifying games in Europe’s Group ‘C’ where it finished second to Bosnia and Herzegovina on goal difference, and then sparkling magnificently in the play-off against Romania for an aggregate 4-2 victory that carried it to the World Cup. But this is the same country which pulled off one of the biggest upsets in football history when it stunned Portugal in Lisbon and won the 2004 European Championship. And it is the same tight defence that has kept the team in the World’s top 10 and has carried it to its third World Cup.

Trust the Greeks to raise the bar when you least expect them to.

Portugal’s Fernando Santos, the team’s head coach and a shrewd tactician, has opted for experience and utility players in his final squad of 23, a side which includes the 37-year-old Giorgos Karagounis, the captain with 132 national team appearances under his belt, and Kostas Katsouranis — both part of the EURO 2004 triumph.

Counterattack is Greece’s main offensive weapon and 26-year-old German-born forward Kostas Mitroglou, who scored three of the four goals against Romania, should be the team’s big hope to score goals.

AP

Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos, one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga this year and Greece’s most expensive player, will be the player to watch.

Greece, which has never moved beyond the first round and which lost a friendly to South Korea 0-2 in March, faces Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan, all fast-paced opponents that should pose some worry in Group ‘C’ but one can never write off the team.