Greece's Key Weapon and Achilles' Heel at 2014 World Cup

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2014

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 6: Greece's starting eleven before an international friendly match against Bolivia at Red Bull Arena on June 6, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Fernando Santos' Greece side go into the 2014 World Cup with one of the clearest delineations of all the squads at the tournament, between their key weapon and Achilles' heel. In essence, their key weapon is their defense, and their Achilles' heel is their attack.

Let's take a closer look...


Key Weapon

In qualifying for a second World Cup in a row for the first time in Greece's history, Santos has pulled off a remarkable feat. In order to achieve this, Greece conceded the fewest goals of any team in European qualifying.

Greece conceded just four goals in 10 games. They were all conceded away from Athens. No team scored past them on their home turf. Three of the four were conceded in one game, against Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other against Latvia.

In their three pre-World Cup friendlies Greece have conceded only once and kept clean sheets against World Cup-bound Portugal and Nigeria.

Their defensive record is a team-wide affair, but the back four are, of course, an instrumental part of this. Particular praise is due for Greece's two excellent centre-halves.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid takes on Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 2,
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund and Kostas Manolas of Olympiakos are a pairing whose strengths complement each other well. Papastathopoulos is blessed with excellent pace, and he reads the game well. He did a fine job of man-marking Lionel Messi at the 2010 World Cup.

He has made 28 appearances for Dortmund this season, making him a key part of Jurgen Klopp's side. His role at Dortmund means he probably plays the highest level of club football of any Greek player.

Alongside him, the young Olympiakos and former AEK Athens prodigy Manolas has made the second centre-back position his own in the latter part of qualifying, and he seems very likely to start the group stages of the World Cup.

The rest of the team are integral to Greece's defense—they really do defend as a collective unit—but it is on the shoulders of these two men that Greece's fate most heavily rests.

An honourable mention for a key weapon of Greece's goes to their capacity for attacking set-pieces, notably the abilities of their captain Giorgos Karagounis.


Achilles' Heel

How fitting to be discussing the Achilles' heel of the Greek side. The legend of Achilles is, of course, the legend of a Greek hero. It tells us that his mother, Thetis—upon hearing his death foretold—dipped the young Achilles into the River Styx, a river whose waters would bestow invulnerability upon the child.

However, when dipping him, she held onto his ankle, meaning the waters never touched his heel, leaving that a weakness which eventually saw him perish to Paris' arrow in the Trojan War.

CHESTER, PA - JUNE 3:  Giorgos Samaras #7 of Greece gets pulled down by Kunle Odunlami #12 of Nigeria, as Odunlami's teammate Michael Uchebo #25 tries to gain control of the ball during an international friendly match at PPL Park on June 3, 2014 in Cheste
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

If the Greek national football team had a collective mother, she was obviously holding it by the strikers when she dipped it into the Styx, because they really do struggle to score goals.

In qualifying they managed only 12 goals in 10 games. They only managed a 1-0 victory away in Liechtenstein, a team who Bosnia and Herzegovina put eight past.

They managed an impressive 3-1 win over Romania in the first leg of their play-off to reach the World Cup finals, but that is only the 11th time they have scored three or more goals in a single game in the past decade. The Greek lack of goals is perhaps not as ancient a problem as was the problem of Achilles' heel, but neither is it new.

For some context, England, who have played more games but have hardly been a powerhouse of international football in that period, have managed to score three or more goals in a single game on 38 occasions in the past decade.

In their three pre-World Cup friendlies, Greece have only scored two goals, both of those coming in their 2-1 victory over Bolivia, who finished second from bottom in South American qualifying. Greece failed to register against either Nigeria or Portugal.

Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

Greece will be relying on set-pieces and hoping that Kostas Mitroglou finds some of the form that earned him a move to the Premier League.

It is a delicate balance between their fine defense and blunt attack, but if the Fates tip it in Greece's favour, they may just score enough for their defense to do its work and qualification from the group stages may not be impossible.


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