The final team to be drawn in Group B, Greece enters its first World Cup since 1994 after coming second to Switzerland in a relatively straightforward qualifying pool before going on to beat Ukraine 1-0 on aggregate in one of the UEFA playoff ties. Under their German Coach of nine years, Otto Rehhagel, this is a Greek squad which has enjoyed a degree of stability in recent times and will be looking to rekindle the spirit 0f 2004, the country’s European Championship winning year, as it makes only the second World Cup appearance in its history.
Despite the stereotype of Rehhagel’s Greece as an almost wholly negative side, a team centered around its defence and indulgent in spoiling tactics, this is not a group of players team that can be simply described as subscribing to any one particular tactical system. During qualification for South Africa Rehhagel used no less than five different formations, deploying 4-3-3, 3-4-3, 5-3-2, 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 on various occasions. However, this apparently haphazard approach to strategy is underpinned by the same method which saw Greece spring the biggest surprise of the modern era by winning Euro 2004. Rehhagel is a meticulous tactician, changing his approach for every opponent rather than regularly using the system supposedly best suited to the players at his disposal.
As the website zonalmarking.net notes, “Greece did brilliantly to adapt their shape to suit opposing formations (in 2004) – the only constant was to make sure they had a spare man at the back”. In that tournament Rehhagel frequently switched between a three and four-man defence, changing his system according to the tactics of his team’s opponents and winning four of six games as he and his players marched to success in Portugal. The German will surely look to pull off a similar conjuring trick in South Africa this summer.
Although Rehhagel is something of a tactical chameleon, he did show a slight preference for the 3-4-3 system during qualifying, using the formation (although it’s certainly open to interpretation) in five of Greece’s 10 group games. When using the 3-4-3 Rehhagel has tended to select a back three of Traianos Dellas, Avraam Papadopolous and Sotirios Kyrgiakos, with an experienced midfield unit sitting behind an attacking trio of Georgios Samaras, Theofanis Gekas and Angelos Charisteas, the hero of 2004.
With a repeat of Greece’s efforts of six years ago being highly unlikely this summer, Rehhagel would probably see qualification from the group as constituting a succesful tournament for his side. However, with a squad lacking out-and-out pace and flair, the Greeks could struggle against their group opponents (Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea), all teams with quick wide players and, arguably, more attacking intent. This is a team with the undoubted capacity to surprise, but perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much from Greece in 2010.
Probable starting XI: Konstantinos Chalkias (PAOK); Traianos Dellas (Anorthosis Famagusta), Avraam Papadopolous (Olympiakos), Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Liverpool); Giorgos Seitaridis (Panathanaikos), Konstantinos Katsouranis (Panathanaikos), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathanaikos), Vasilis Torosidis (Olympiakos); Georgios Samaras (Celtic), Angelos Charisteas (Nuremberg), Theofanis Gekas (Bayer Leverkussen)
The Road to South Africa:2nd place in UEFA Group 2 – UEFA play-off winners
World Ranking: 12th