2014 World Cup Tactics Board: Analysing Fernando Santos' Greece

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2013, file photo, Fernando Santos, the coach of Greece, celebrates after defeating Romania in their World Cup qualifying playoff second leg match at the National Arena in Bucharest. Greece coach Fernando Santos will step down after the World Cup, but says he's glad to help lift the country's spirits after it endured four years of severe financial crisis. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)
Thanassis Stavrakis

Welcome back to the latest edition of our World Cup tactics board, where we look at each nation in turn who has qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

This time around we've got Euro 2004 winners Greece in our sights, who qualified via the playoffs in the UEFA zone.

Greece finished third in their group in 2010 and will be hoping to go at least one better in Brazil.



Greece have been noted over the past decade for their ability to reach major tournaments, and they made it four in a row by reaching Brazil 2014 via the playoffs, after finishing second in Group G behind Bosnia and Herzegovina on goal difference.

Petros Giannakouris

They started with a 2-1 win in Latvia, following that up with a 2-0 home victory over Lithuania.

The big tests came in the shape of home and away fixtures against Bosnia-Herz., which ended 0-0 and in a 3-1 defeat, respectively, sandwiching a 1-0 win over Slovakia.

Greece put together four successive 1-0 wins to bounce back from that loss to Bosnia, beating Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Latvia and Slovakia, before a final 2-0 win over Liechtenstein proved not enough to unseat Bosnia from top spot on goal difference.

In the playoffs, Greece defeated Romania 4-2 on aggregate, winning 3-1 at home in the first leg.


Formation and Style

As is their custom, Greece qualified by way of being extremely difficult to beat, securing a succession of clean sheets and taking victories by the odd goal.

Five of their eight victories were by a 1-0 scoreline, while they totalled eight clean sheets and didn't concede a single goal at home during qualifying.

Greece under Otto Rehhagel were renowned for being extremely defensive-minded, sitting back deep with numbers behind the ball, and looking to counter-attack down the flanks and by utilising a powerful, aerially impressive lone centre-forward to hold up the ball and be a threat from set pieces.

Now under the guidance of Fernando Santos, all that still applies, but the defence has actually stepped up even more.

Amel Emric

Greece typically feature with just the one central striker, though they rotated their attacking options heavily during qualifying. Often, Giorgios Samaras would operate from a wider area to add greater movement infield in attacks and provide a diagonal out-ball to help launch counters.

They're far from the most fluid and offensive-minded side, but they are very adept at frustrating the opposition, closing out spaces and making the most of opportunities which fall their way.


Reasons for Hope

Their strong defence, range of forwards of a similar level, strong and stable squad and previous tournament experience are all big plusses for Greece.

Thanassis Stavrakis

Two midfielders—captain Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis—have over a century of caps already, while another seven in the usual squads are within touching distance or beyond 50 each.

While many of the players in the squad are based in Greece, mainly at Olympiacos, a few individuals play for much bigger clubs: centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a regular for Dortmund and the versatile Vasilis Torosidis continues to play a squad role at Roma.

In the centre-back position, Kostas Manolas looks set to continue a strong line of top-class, determined defenders.


Reasons for Concern

Kyriakos Papadopoulos has endured a nightmare two seasons through injury, first with his knee and most recently dislocating his shoulder, meaning he's highly unlikely to go to the World Cup.

In attack, Kostas Mitroglou has barely featured for Fulham since his January transfer, supposedly through lack of fitness, so he will hardly be in the best shape for the summer tournament either. Goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas has never exactly convinced at international level, while the main Greek stopper in qualifying was Orestis Karnezis—he's played just three times for Granada in La Liga this season.

Finally, Group C at the World Cup proper will provide a very tough, but not insurmountable, challenge for Greece.

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 06:  Group C containing Colombia, Greece, Cote d'Ivoire and Japan is displayed on the big screen on stage behind the draw assistants, Fernanda Lima and FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke during the Final Draw for the 2
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

They face Colombia, Japan and Ivory Coast, all nations who will believe they can qualify for the knock-out stages. It is an extremely even group, which is perhaps both a positive and a negative for a team who will hope to defend stoutly and nick a goal when they can. One mistake and it could be very hard to squeeze through.


Conclusions and Predictions

It really is a case of write off Greece at your peril, so regularly have they been able to reach the knock-outs at major tournaments of late, but it remains difficult to see them winning enough games to go through.

Japan have players with better final-third technique, Colombia have a range of strikers to choose from who can all contribute goals and Ivory Coast will have Didier Drogba.

These nations are all stronger than the likes of Slovakia, Lithuania and such who failed to find a way past Greece in the qualifiers, yet Greece themselves only managed to score three times in two matches against Liechtenstein.

Such a negative outlook will, in the end, cost the chance of victory at key moments, and with attack-minded teams to play in Brazil, Group C could be the end of the road for Greece this time around. 

Prediction: Group Stage exit in World Cup 2014, third or fourth in Group C