If you’re a betting man and missed your chance to score a fortune by not picking Buster Douglas at 42-1 to beat Mike Tyson for the World Heavyweight Championship, you could get rich betting on Greece to win the World Cup in soccer – what the world outside of the U.S. calls football – in 2014 in Brazil, as the Greeks are a 200-1 shot.
Greece got a decent draw being in Group C with Japan, Colombia and Ivory Coast and will be appearing in a second straight world title run after a disastrous 1996 appearance in the U.S. where a ho-hum team of older veterans went through the motions, being outscored 10-0 in three games and sent packing in humiliation.
An analysis from Reuters estimated the Greek side can do well if it sticks to the defense-oriented strategy of coach Fernando Santos, a style which suited the team well in the qualifying campaign.
In the stages to get to Brazil, Santos’ team finished behind eventual Group G winners Bosnia only on goal difference, with a 3-1 loss to the Bosnians in Zenica proving their only defeat of another solid qualifying campaign – albeit in one of Europe’s weaker sections.
With a playing style which makes them hard to beat but unspectacular up front, Greece chalked up an impressive record of eight wins in their 10 group matches, five of them by 1-0 scorelines, the analysis noted.
If Greece suffers anywhere it’s in firepower once again as the Greeks prefer to backpedal and try to keep the other team from scoring instead of attacking aggressively, which cost them dearly in some previous campaigns. Santos has a strong core of veterans in Giorgos Karagounis, Fanis Gekas and Kostas Katsouranis.
The Greeks have shown an ability to counter-attack off their defense though, with a strong front line of Celtic’s Giorgos Samaras, Olympiacos striker Kostas Mitroglou and the tireless Dimitris Salpingidis.
In the cautious world of soccer, where teams often hope for a 0-0 tie and scores are infrequent, Santos sticks to the script of trying to keep the other team off the board and hoping for a score by his own side. His motto is: “tactics first, technical ability second,” and his style can probably be described as more Hank Iba than Pat Riley, more defense than fast-break.
The Greek team played dutifully, if not exciting, in Euro 201, losing to the top side Germans in the quarter finals, eight years after stunning the world by winning the European championship in Portugal in 2004, that grand Olympic year for Greece before the country’s economy went sour and so did the mood of Greeks and that play of their beloved national soccer team.
After a creditable display at Euro 2012, where Greece were beaten by Germany in the quarter-finals, Santos’ men only lost out on an automatic place at Brazil 2014 to Bosnia on goal difference.
An important factor of Santos’ success is his extensive knowledge of Greek football and culture from his time as a club manager, having coached some of the country’s top clubs in AEK Athens, Panathinaikos and PAOK Salonica. He lives permanently in Greece and knows the talent, while relying on team manager Takis Fyssas, who was part of Greece’s Euro 2004 winning squad, as well as working with the younger teams.
Santos is betting on Mitroglou, 25, who has emerged as the team’s star with a flamboyant presence and striking ability, and shown his stuff after a disappointing career up to this year.
Despite being somewhat media shy, Mitroglou – who has scored 41 goals in 84 appearances for Olympiakos – is affectionately known as “Mitrogoal” and “Pistolero” by his club’s fanatical fans for his gun-toting goal celebrations.
The 2013-14 campaign has unquestionably been his breakthrough season. He became the first Greek player to score a hat-trick in the UEFA Champions League with a treble at Anderlecht in October, and has notched 14 goals in 10 matches – including three hat-tricks – in the Greek league this season, dominating play.
While not noted for his pace, Mitroglou’s key attributes are his intelligent movement off the ball, physical strength and a powerful long range shot. He’ll need to have it all if Greece wants to get past the first stages in Brazil.