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World Cup team preview: Greece

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The Greeks head to the World Cup as one of the more unpredictable teams. It's hard to fathom which Greece will show up from game to game: the one that fashioned a series of soporific performances in Europe's Group G, finishing second to Bosnia & Herzegovina on goal difference; or the side that rose to the occasion and were actually rather watchable in their play-off victory over Romania?

Fernando Santos' men tend to save their best for the big stage, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see them challenge for a place in the knockout rounds. The worry is that, despite their superb team spirit and vast experience in major tournaments, the quality might just be lacking this time around.


The Perception:

Purveyors of football from a bygone era, a side that masks their shortcomings by defending en masse and hoping to nick something from a set-piece. Aesthetics be damned, bore to win, in other words: the Euro 2004 blueprint.

The Reality:

A plucky group whose collective determination has yielded results, this is a team that has punched way above their weight for over a decade. Greece aren't always attractive to watch, but neutrals can at least admire the teams heart and guts.

The Boss:

Fernando Santos is a shrewd tactician who is good at reading a match and making the right changes. The Portugese could be seen as pragmatic, but he likes to mix it up and will take risks to get his side back into a game.

The Masterplan:

Santos has experimented with different formations, but the tried and trusted 4-3-3 will remain first choice. Counter-attack is the Greeks' main offensive weapon, but when the tram does get one the ball, Georgios Samaras has the vital ability to bring team-mates into attack. Which is just as well, because his own goal scoring record - eight in 71 internationals - is awful.

Strengths:

At the back, where Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Dortmund and Roma's Vasilis Torosidis are commanding figures, there is a real commitment to win the ball and cover should be a team-mate get beaten. The Greeks' experience can't be underestimated, and they relish tight matches.

Weaknesses:

A distinct dearth of creativity in midfield. Only the 37 year old Giorgis Karagounis seems to be able to deliver a telling pass. Greece struggle when chasing a match; if they concede first, there isn't much of a Plan B.

Lessons from qualifying:

The team should focus on their play-off performance against Romania - only then did Greece open up a bit and go looking for goals. The approach paid off and helped to erase memories of a lethargic qualifying campaign.

Key Player:

Premier League watchers have yet to see Kostas Mitroglou at his best, but the Fulham striker is Greece's biggest hope for goals. This, coupled with his hold-up play and creativity in the box, will be key to Greek hopes.

The Verdict:

A shock win over Colombia in the opener is required to go on a run in this tournament. But the reality is that Greece will probably struggle against their Group C opponents, they won't be embarrassed but an early exit beckons