2014 World Cup: Why Mitroglou Is Greece's Key to Reaching the Knockout Rounds

Albinko HasicContributor IIMay 19, 2014

Greece's Kostas Mitroglou celebrates after scoring a goal during the World Cup qualifying playoff second leg soccer match against Romania at the National Arena in Bucharest, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

Perhaps no other team embodies the World Cup spirit of team unity than Greece.  

They proved it in 2004, when they lifted the Euro Cup trophy on the back of a strong defense and a disciplined core of players who moved together like a well-oiled machine under manager Otto Rehhagel.  

Since then, defense is still king, even under the more adventurous Fernando Santos. In World Cup 2014 qualification, Greece only conceded four goals in group-stage play, despite rotating the starting back four at times. However, the team will need to balance their defensive approach with attacking bite if they are to see off their World Cup opponents in order to advance to the round of 16.

Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

Greece's defense was, unsurprisingly, particularly dominant during the World Cup 2014 qualifiers. The central-defensive leader Sokratis Papastathopoulos saw the lion's share of the minutes in qualification, only missing a single match due to injury. His club form has also been inspiring, with 27 Bundesliga matches under his belt this season for Borussia Dortmund.  

Three of the four conceded goals in group-stage play came against a single opponent (Bosnia-Herzegovina), away, due to set-piece errors. From open play, the Greek defense never allowed attackers to penetrate, despite frequent rotation. In fact, Greece's only other conceded goal came against Latvia from the penalty spot.  

Despite the brick wall in the back, it was offense, particularly from one man, that lifted Greece over Romania with a 4-2 aggregate score in the two-match playoff set for qualification. That man was Fulham striker Kostas Mitroglou, affectionately called "Mitrogoal" by the fans. Mitroglou scored three of Greece's four goals against Romania, and prior to his arrival to Fulham in January he was a man on fire for Olympiacos.

Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

"Pistolero” scored 41 goals in 84 appearances for the Greek club prior to his move. He also became the first Greek player to score a hat-trick in the Champions League against Anderlecht in October 2013.  In 2013-2014 alone, Mitroglou scored 17 goals in 19 appearances, helping crown Olympiacos Greek champions.  

Mitroglou signed a four-and-a-half-year contract in January for a reported fee of £12 million. Since then, his form has dipped due to a nagging knee injury, with minimal playing time for his new club.

For the national team, Portuguese manager Fernando Santos has regularly played Mitroglou throughout World Cup 2014 qualification. Despite only scoring one goal in group-stage play in a traditionally conservative team, Mitroglou was an essential part of Greece's qualification effort with his hold-up play and link-up ability with the midfield.  

Since his debut in 2009, Mitroglou has earned 28 caps to his name, with a goal tally that stands at eight. For a team whose philosophy is very much rooted in the collective, Mitroglou has been one of the most consistent forwards on the roster.

In a World Cup group that includes Colombia, Japan and the Ivory Coast, Greece's defense will have its fair share of work cut out for it.  However, with the attacking nature of their opposition, Greece will have their own opportunities to score goals.  

Mitroglou, aided by a seasoned core of midfielders which includes captain Giorgos Karagounis (132 caps), will have plenty of opportunities to create space for his teammates or to score himself.

If Mitroglou can rediscover his Olympiacos and Romania form, minimalist results aided by the defense may be enough for Greece to secure a place in the round of 16.