Greece vs. Ivory Coast: 6 Things We Learned
Greece vs. Ivory Coast produced another dramatic moment in this increasingly remarkable World Cup.
As Georgios Samaras kept his cool and slotted a penalty past Boubacar Barry into the Ivorian net, he sealed Greece's unexpected passage to the last 16.
Here are six things we learned during Greece's remarkable win.
They Look a Different Side When They Counter-Attack Quickly
During the second half of this game, Greece looked a different side. Perhaps buoyed by the first-half ending with substitute Andreas Samaris' 42nd-minute goal, Greece attacked with renewed purpose. They did so both before and after Wilfried Bony's 74th-minute equaliser. Even at 1-0, Greece did not look content to sit on their lead.
They countered with more pace and managed more shots than in either of their opening two games—13 compared with nine against Japan and 11 against Colombia. Notably, they attempted nine shots in the second half, their previous high for a half having been the six shots attempted in the first half against Colombia.
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos' inclusion in the starting line-up added verve and dynamism to Greece's counter-attacking. Samaris' arrival as a substitute in place of the injured Panagiotis Kone was, of course, significant in that he scored, but Greece looked better with him in the side even before his goal.
The increase in the pace of their counter-attacks was crucial to the threat they posed.
There Is Strength in Depth in the Squad
Samaris and Christodoulopoulos saw their first action of the tournament in this game. Also making his World Cup debut was back-up keeper Panagiotis Glykos, coming on for the injured Orestis Karnezis. Whilst Karnezis' quality means Fernando Santos will certainly be hoping he is available for selection in the knockout stages, Glykos performed well when called upon.
Santos may not have truly outstanding first-choice talent at his disposal in many areas of the pitch; and perhaps only Greece's centre-halves would be likely to make an impression on any "team of the tournament" so far. However, there is good cover—and some fine options for making tactical changes when needed—across the midfield and up front.
Samaras Can Be Cool Under Pressure
Georgios Samaras' scoring rate for his country is distinctly unimpressive. He has failed to find the net for Greece since Euro 2012 in spite of featuring regularly. Even having gone two years without a goal for his country, Samaras managed to keep his cool under almost unimaginable pressure.
The moment was set up to produce drama. Whether it was a heroic or tragic moment for Greece came down to Samaras' ability to score from the spot.
And score he did. All great drama needs catharsis. To break an international scoring drought by firing your nation into the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time ever is sporting catharsis of the most profound kind.
There Are Miles in the Old Kar Yet
Giorgos Karagounis—making his first start in this World Cup, having been a substitute in both of Greece's opening fixtures—was quietly effective. His pass map is a good representation of his attacking contribution. He used the ball in a tidy fashion and maintained good tactical discipline.
He is also clearly a leader in the Greek side. Alongside him, Giannis Maniatis had his best game of the tournament so far, completing 100 percent of his 34 passes.
With passing statistics like those, it is easy to see why Greece's play looked so much more fluid than it had in previous games.
Pressing Cheick Tiote Worked
Cheick Tiote starts many of Ivory Coast's attacking moves, and Greece tasked their forward players with pressuring him when he was in possession.
Whilst they were not completely effective in shutting down his attacking contributions, as his pass map shows, it did lead to the game's first key turning point, as Samaris and Samaras combined to rob him of the ball, exchange a one-two pass and score Greece's opener.
Pressing Tiote definitely worked.
Holebas Was Much Improved
Jose Holebas, Greece's left-back, was identified in my preview of this game as a potential weak point for Greece. However, that did not turn out to be an accurate prediction.
It was a fine all-round performance from the defender, and he should head into the knockout stages with some confidence.
As should his team-mates. These are exciting times for Greece.
All statistics and data visualisations per Squawka.com