Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Greece, who are drawn in the wide-open Group C, which also contains Colombia, Ivory Coast, and Japan. Greece play their first match against Colombia on June 14th.
The Greeks had a tough but successful qualifying campaign, winning 8 of 10 games, with the other 2 games being a 0-0 draw and 3-1 loss to eventual group winners Bosnia-Herzegovina. After a 2nd place finish in their qualification group, they won a 2-game play-off with Romania via a 3-1 home win and 1-1 draw in Bucharest. Greece have shown themselves to have one of the toughest and most resilient defenses in the world. Among their 8 victories, 5 of them were by a score of 1-0. Furthermore, Greece also has a history of winning by close scorelines, as shown by their triumph 10 years ago at Euro 2004, where they beat favored and more talented teams Portugal (twice), France, and the Czech Republic, all by the same 1-0 scorelines.
From a physical fitness standpoint, the tactics employed by the Greek team, which involve defending deep, getting several numbers around the opponent/behind the ball, and counter-attacking very quickly upon regaining possession, requires extremely high aerobic endurance, as well as quick reaction time and running speed. The Greeks typically have far less possession of the ball than their opponents, so in addition to their world class fitness, they must also possess formidable concentration and work ethic to remain disciplined in defense, and patient to wait for the right moment to counter. Dating back to their 2004 Euro victory, the team has also made a seamless transition from former coach Otto Rehhagel (in charge from 2003 to 2010) to new coach Fernando Santos (who took over following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa). Santos, as Rehhagel did, lists attitude, fitness, and work rate as his team’s strongest qualities. Will these attributes be enough to see the Greeks through from the aforementioned wide-open Group C? We will have to wait and see what happens in 2 months’ time.
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