2010 World Cup profile: Greece
By Noah Davis, Special to SI.com
Theofanis Gekas is Greece's only proven goal scorer at international level.
Aris Messinis/Getty Images
SI.com profiled all 32 World Cup teams. We conclude with Greece. Click here for the full archive.
Greece isn't known for its offensive prowess, but Theofanis Gekas led all of UEFA qualification in scoring. The Bayer Leverkusen striker (on loan to Hertha BSC) tallied 10 of Greece's 20 goals during the group phase, although six came in two matches against Latvia. Gekas is a dangerous threat who also found the back of the net in friendlies against Italy and Denmark. Whether he can score his country's first-ever goal in the finals will dictate Greece's chances.
Captain Giorgos Karagounis dictates the pace of play. South Africa could be the last hurrah for the 33-year-old midfielder who's plied his trade on a club level for teams such as Inter Milan, Benfica, and Panathinaikos, where he returned in 2007. Standing just over 5-foot-7 tall, Karagounis epitomizes the hard-nosed, high work-rate of the Greek squad. Neither he nor his team is the most talented in the world -- far from it, in fact -- but they offer no quarter and harass, harass, harass. He'll have to impact both offensively and defensively if Greece is to advance.
If the Greeks do thrive, youth could lead the way. Sotiris Ninis, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Vasilis Torosidis all missed a recent friendly against Senegal due to the U-21 tournament. Torosidis should start, but Ninis might be the most dangerous of the trio. He's just 19 years old, though and needs to prove that he can handle the pressure.
What to watch for
In 2004, Greece shocked the world by winning the European Championship. Its play wasn't pretty, but it was effective, as "the Pirate Ship" didn't concede a goal after the opening round. Rehhagel's squad followed that immense victory by failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and subsequently losing all three matches at Euro '08. Getting to South Africa wasn't easy -- the Greeks had to survive a playoff despite being the seeded team Group 2 -- but they prevailed and will appear in their second-ever World Cup.
Rehhagel, the country's longest serving manager, will be 71 years old at kickoff and will struggle to lead his charges out of the opening round. They'll need to earn all their points in the first two matches against an organized South Korean side and the flamboyant, unpredictable Super Eagles of Nigeria, as Argentina looms as the final opponent. (Then again, it's possible the South American squad will be through and resting their best players. Even so, Diego Maradona's team is stacked and Greece can't count on a result.) Making the knockout phase isn't an impossible task but it's on par with bailing out the county's economy.
As of June 2010, Greece sat 13th in the world according to FIFA but that's quite generous. In its first World Cup tune-up, the team looked awful. Senegal waltzed into Olympiacos' Karaiskaki Stadium and thrashed the hosts. While the home side clearly missed some of its key players, the result stung regardless. This iteration of the Greek team can battle, as it showed by winning 1-0 in Donetsk to join the 32-team World Cup final, but South Africa will be a challenge all the way.
Key match in group stage
Greece needs a result in their first match aginst South Korea on June 12. Earn three points against the Asian side and the road to the knockout phase resembles the Autobahn. Fall short of victory and Rehhagel will be trying to guide a semi-truck up Mount Olympus.