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Greek heads aren't in the game

The country's economic crisis has distracted fans from the Greece World Cup team, but a soccer success could give spirits a much-needed lift.

Greece fans cheer for their team in Athens before a World Cup European Zone qualifying match against Albania on March 30, 2005. (Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

Greece World Cup Team Statistics: Group B

Status: Knocked our round 2

World Ranking: 13

World Cup 2010 Results: 1-2-0

Total goals scored: 2

Total goals scored against: 5

Greece World Cup Schedule: June 12 - South Korea (0-2 loss); June 17 - Nigeria (2-1 win); June 22 - Argentina (0-2 loss)

Greece World Cup Soccer 2010

Was it only six years ago that Greeks poured into the streets to celebrate their greatest soccer victory — the Euro 2004 championship? Today the Greeks are in the streets, but they are more worried about the country’s economic collapse than the World Cup fate of their soccer team.

There are mass protests and riots as Greeks push back against an austerity program forced on the government to stave off bankruptcy. The disappointment over future prospects there is so overwhelming that, to the extent anyone is concerned about the soccer team, they are expecting more of the same — failure, possibly even a severe failure that comes as a slap in the face.

Read all of GlobalPost's World Cup 2010 coverage

Still, any soccer success in South Africa could at least serve as a welcome, if temporary, distraction from the woes. Greeks may get more pleasure from rooting against Germany, the country it blames for the harsh terms attached to the European economic bailout.

Greece World Cup History: Has only qualified for one previous World Cup —  in the U.S. in 1994 — and not only lost all three games, but failed to score a goal.

Greece World Cup Conventional Wisdom: The aging Greek team was uninspiring during qualification and there is no current of optimism on anything in the country. The group, however, is not overly daunting. Reaching the second-round would be viewed as an outstanding performance.

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Greece World Cup Team Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Rehhagel may be the last popular German in Greece, having reigned so long — since 2001  —and with such success that some there have dubbed him “King Otto.” He bailed out Greece, deeply immersed in European soccer’s second or even third tier, when he guided it to a stunning upset championship in the 2004 Euros. Rehhagel also holds the distinction of being the only man to have taken part, as player or coach, in more than 1,000 Bundesliga games.

Greece World Cup Team Strength: Rehhagel’s Greek teams have the ability to build a fortress in front of their own net. The Greeks have shown they can ride tough, cohesive defense a long way.

Greece World Cup Team Weakness: While the memory of 2004 remains, most of the players from that team are gone and those remaining have lost a few steps. There has been no major infusion of young talent to pick up the slack.

Greece World Cup Key Player: Georgios Karagounis

Despite his diminutive size, Karagounis was a dominant force in the midfield during Greece’s shocker of a Euro 2004 run. He scored the tournament’s opening goal that keyed an upset of host Portugal, a result that would be repeated in the final.

At 34, he may have a slowed a bit, but his savvy and instincts remain intact and usually unerring. He played a major role as his club Panathinaikos won both its league and the Greek Cup this season. His playmaking and free kick skills will largely determine Greece’s offensive success in South Africa.

 


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