Hellas are confident of a good showing in Poland and Ukraine, but realistically the 2004 champions have little hope of coming close to matching their heroics of eight years ago
By Michael Paterakis | Greece Expert
The current incarnation boasts some hot prospects capable of catching the eye, and shares many common traits with the triumphant squad at Euro 2004, but has zero chance of repeating the miracle of Portugal. This is the short-version answer to the most persistent question that runs through the minds of all Greek internationals. That is, of course, whether this squad can be better than Otto Rehhagel's boys.
For the longer answer, you should pay attention to the words of Giorgos Karagounis. "We have proved that with hard work we can achieve anything we have set as a goal," he told me a few days ago. At 35 years of age, Karagounis is the team's captain and longest-serving member, having featured in the senior squad since 1998, and the one who understands instructions better than anyone else on this team. And there have been many different instructions.
The Panathinaikos midfielder knows all too well that few punters are putting their money on Greece, but he knows first hand the hard work being done by Fernando Santos and his players and the rich talent of the current squad. Talent - perhaps even equal to the 2004 team - that is constantly undervalued, despite the fact that Hellas went undefeated through qualifying, comfortably ahead of group favorites Croatia.
|We have proved that with hard work we can achieve anything set as a goal
- Giorgos Karagounis
The focus on not conceding a goal remains the most important principle of the Galanolefki since Rehhagel's days. And very much like his predecessor, Santos is lucky enough to have at his disposal some word-class defenders. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, at just 20 years old, has become a constant fixture in Schalke's starting XI over the last couple of years and has enjoyed the status of one of the Bundesliga's hottest prospects. Next to him is Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Werder Bremen, three years older but of equal talent. And let's not forget the more experienced Avraam Papadopoulos, who has been a cornerstone in Olympiakos' back-line.
At right-back, Greece will be served by another Olympiakos player, Vasilis Torosidis, who right now is indisputably this team's leader, gifted with the rare ability of being able to dominate all of the flank by himself.
Santos has copied Rehhagel's playbook for his offensive plans as well. Up front the Portuguese seems determined to trust not the most rounded striker, but the poacher who can score with a single touch, even if he has failed to contribute to the team's play in the rest of the game, like Rehhagel did with Angelos Charisteas eight years ago. For this role there is just one man and his name is Fanis Gekas. Charisteas, at the age of 32, could have been a part of the current squad as a back-up option, but Santos has decided that the 24-year-old Kostas Mitroglou, one of the top scorers in the Greek Super League over the last two seasons, is a better option.
Champions of Europe | But the chances of another Greek miracle are extremely slim
Playmaking duties fall to Georgios Samaras, who maintains that he is the archetypal forward, even though his ability to pick a pass and his skill when running with the ball betray that belief.
In an under-strength midfield, Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis will have the exact same role they had in Greece's team in 2004, but are now eight years older and have no real upcoming talents to ease the burden of carrying the flag.
Nonetheless, they do have the experience. And along with custodian Kostas Chalkias, they are the final members of the Galanolefki who can still recall the days before 2004, when Greece had only twice qualified for the finals of a major tournament (Euro '80 and the 1994 World Cup). They provide much-needed knowledge and experience to curb the enthusiasm of the younger lads - such as Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who insists that the team can go all the way - and help maintain another shared principle with Rehhagel's boys: a down-to-earth mentality and genuine work ethic.
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