5 Things for Greece to Take out of Their World Cup Group-Stage Games
Fernando Santos' Greece have achieved a remarkable feat in qualifying from the group stages, but what are their key takeaways?
They emerge from their group having scored just two goals, but nonetheless having managed to impress on occasion, particularly in the second half against Ivory Coast.
As they head into the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time in their history, here are five things they can learn from their performances so far...
They Still Know How to Do Just Enough
The clue was perhaps in the manner of their qualification to the World Cup. Built on a platform of a rock-solid defence—not conceding a single goal at home throughout their campaign to get to Brazil—they needed to beat Romania in a play-off to make the final cut.
They managed to pull off that win, scoring three goals in the first leg. Scoring three goals in 90 minutes is not something which the Ethniki do often.
Their Euro 2004 triumph was, of course, a result of doing just enough, over and over again. In that tournament they qualified second from their group by virtue of having scored more goals than Spain. They proceeded to win each of the rest of their games 1-0.
At Euro 2012, they needed to defeat Russia in the final game to qualify from a group that looked to have slipped away from them. They won 1-0.
They did the same in qualifying from their group this time around. If they can continue their run of doing "just enough," they may have further surprises in store for the watching world.
Their Style Is a Good Match for Costa Rica
Costa Rica's success in this World Cup so far is perhaps even more remarkable than Greece's.
Comfortably fourth favourites to emerge from Group D, Costa Rica defeated Uruguay and Italy, exceeding every possible expectation.
Their achievement was built on incisive counter-attacking, relishing their role as underdogs and being comfortable ceding possession to their more glamorous opponents.
It will be difficult to successfully counter-attack against Greece, given they hold their shape with tremendous discipline and rarely charge forward in numbers. Greece certainly have the capacity to defeat Costa Rica and reach the quarter-finals.
They Can Progress Further into the Tournament
If they get past Costa Rica, Greece's next opponents will be either Mexico or the Netherlands. They are both fine sides, but neither of them are without weaknesses. At Euro 2004, Greece's success was achieved by replicating an extremely effective defensive performance throughout the knockout phase.
Whilst it remains relatively unlikely, it is much less far-fetched to imagine a Greek appearance in the semi-final of this World Cup than it was a few short days ago.
Their confidence will grow with each successful step.
They Are at Their Best When They Attack with Pace
A significant difference between Greece's attacking performance against Ivory Coast and their performances against Japan and Colombia was the speed of their attacking play.
They seemed to move to the ball quicker, to make up the ground quicker and to capitalise on their opponents mistakes quicker than they had at any point in their opening two fixtures.
This is perhaps partly a question of confidence, but it is also a question of personnel. Santos would be wise to consider a starting berth for Andreas Samaris and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos who were both central to Greece's improved performance.
If Giorgos Karagounis is physically up to the task of another start on Sunday, his inclusion could also be key.
They Have a Good-Enough Defence to Worry Anyone
Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas have been impressive in each of Greece's three games. Colombia put three past the Piratiko, but even during that match there were impressive moments from the Greek centre-halves.
Since then, they have conceded just a solitary goal, and they look to have cemented an effective partnership. Well supported by Greece's tactical solidity, Manolas and Papastathopoulos have shown bravery, speed and concentration.
Opposition managers know their strikers will be facing a tough challenge. Greece's centre-halves will be instrumental in any further success their national team achieves.