Greece's World Cup Achievements Owe a Debt to Their Back 4

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Greece's Kostas Manolas heads the ball over Costa Rica's Joel Campbell during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Costa Rica and Greece at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, Sunday, June 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Greece have exceeded expectations at this year's World Cup, and Fernando Santos should be grateful to his back four for their part in this achievement.

They came within an agonising whisker of the quarter-finals. However, the pain of the exit should not overshadow the enormous pride that can be taken from what was achieved.

Greece have never qualified from the group stages of a World Cup before. To do so this time meant displaying remarkable resilience.

Qualification from Group C seemed unlikely before the tournament began, and even more unlikely following their 3-0 defeat to Colombia. In the context of what has come since, that does not seem as bad a result as it did at the time. Colombia have been one of the tournament's most impressive teams.

Turning Point
Turning PointRobert Cianflone/Getty Images

Following that game, 38 minutes into their clash with Japan, Kostas Katsouranis was sent off. In that moment, disaster loomed large. It seemed that Greece's hopes were gone. However, in truth, it was a moment that galvanised the Ethniki into a more effective force.

The changes Santos made to Greece's midfield from then out made their attack more potent. However, it would have been for nought without the heroic efforts of their back four.

Vasilis Torosidis at right-back, Jose Holebas at left-back and Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas at centre-back were ever-present for the Piratiko. They each played every minute of Greece's World Cup.

For the most part, they played very well indeed. There were mistakes, Torosidis was lucky not to concede a penalty with his handball against Costa Rica. Against Colombia, Manolas displayed an understandable lack of composure in the early minutes, and his attempted clearance sent the ball into his own net.

For Colombia's third goal, the entire back four appeared to switch off.

DominantQuinn Rooney/Getty Images

However, those mistakes were the exception rather than the rule. Against Colombia, both Papastathopoulos and Manolas made crucial last-man tackles. Against Costa Rica they made effective clearances of the ball 11 and 10 times respectively. gives every player a numerical rating based on their statistical performance in each game. Papastathopoulos was Greece's highest-scoring player against Costa Rica and Colombia, with Manolas taking the honour against Japan.

Only their game against the Ivory Coast saw someone from outside of their centre-back partnership awarded, with Georgios Samaras being recognised for his excellent contribution.

When initially considering this article, I intended to concentrate solely on the centre-backs, so outstanding have they been. They combined magnificently, covering each other's space, making the best of Manolas' outstanding pace and Papastathopoulos' fine reading of the game.

CrucialAndrew Medichini/Associated Press

However, the full-backs are also worthy of praise, in particular given their contributions to Greece's attacking play. Holebas looked to be Santos' most creative outlet against Costa Rica. He made 16 crosses and four key passes, which was double the number of his closest rival, Papastathopoulos.

Torosidis was also crucial during the campaign, putting in more crosses than any other Greek player in the games against Ivory Coast and Colombia.

Greece are a famously defensive-minded side. While the second half against Ivory Coast and the second half of extra time against Costa Rica saw them remove their shackles and attack, their success in 2014 was still generally built from the back.


Can we just skip straight to the penalty shoot-out?

— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 29, 2014


As Gary Lineker's tweet during the Costa Rica game suggests, neutrals may not have found them particularly enjoyable to watch. However, Greece played to their strengths.

Some of their defences' outstanding performance may be as a result of the system they play, but the system they play may also be as a result of the outstanding defenders available to them.

With Jose Holebas the oldest of the back four at 30 years old and showing no signs of slowing down, Greece's defence should be with them throughout qualification for Euro 2016.

It would not be a surprise to see any success they have at that tournament built on the same outstanding defensive platform.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

All statistics per