Greece, the 2004 European champion, enters South Africa 2010 looking for its first World Cup goal and win after being shutout three times in its only world tournament in 1994.
And after failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and scoring just one goal in three losses at Euro 2008 the honeymoon the Mediterranean country has enjoyed since 2004 is over.
Greece plays Nigeria, South Korea and Argentina in Group B in South Africa and superfan Gus Karvelis (photo) said he and his fellow Greeks expect their team to at least advance past the first round.
“We are the dark horse and we will always be the dark horse. That’s the way we like it. Greece is a team that has no one superstar to rely on, however, we are truly a team that works very hard together and is disciplined. … Argentina is the favourite but we definitely think we’ll make it to the second round,” Karvelis said.
Born and raised in Vancouver after his parents emigrated from Greece, Karvelis, 42, is the coordinator of the Hellenic Community of Vancouver’s Greek soccer league. In his earlier years, 1987 and 1992, he toured Greece with his senior men’s soccer club Apollo to play against several professional and amateur Greek teams. While there he discovered soccer was a “religion” to Greeks and without a doubt the most popular sport. He said he never visited a town or village that didn’t have a soccer field.
His favourite soccer moment — one he likely shares with every Greek in the world — is the 2004 European championships in Portugal when Greece, a monumental underdog at the time, defeated Portugal to complete a remarkable run that saw it win three straight playoff matches by a 1-0 margin.
The importance for Greeks to prove themselves in South Africa as something other than a one championship wonder will weigh heavy on the national team in South Africa, especially after its Euro 2008 flop.
Greece advanced by placing second to Switzerland in its European qualifying group tournament. In a relatively easy group it beat out Latvia and Israel, who finished third and fourth respectively.
Karvelis said the Greeks’ inability to beat the Swiss in either of its two games was largely due to the fact Greece’s team was comprised of younger players who needed to jell.
Greece was subsequently forced into the playoff stage with Ukraine and after a scoreless draw at home it won 1-0 on Ukrainian soil, thus punching its ticket to the World Cup.
“We were silent and nervously waiting for the final whistle. When it finally came, the [community centre main hall] erupted in cheers,” Karvelis said.
While Greece is for the most part a defensive team Karvelis said it has become more offensive compared to its 2004 days.
Its key strikers in 2010 are Theofanis Gekas, of Eintracht Frankfurt, who led all players in the qualifying round with 10 goals, and Angelos Charisteas, of Nuremburg.
Karvelis said much of the offence will begin with his favourite player Giorgos Karagounis, Panathinaikos’s attacking mid-fielder and captain of the national squad.
“He’s the midfield general. He’s very good on free kicks. He’s a small guy, not a very big guy, but he’s fearless and he really is the heart and soul of the team,” Karvelis said.
Karagounis and Charisteas are just one of four players left over from the 2004 team.
Whether the offence continues to flow is in doubt, however. A 2-0 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday in Greece’s last friendly game before the World Cup as well as a 2-2 draw to North Korea and 2-0 loss to Senegal earlier in the year have raised questions about Greece’s resolve.
(source: vancouver sun)