Resilience helps Greece reach new heights
06/25/2014 2:33 PM
06/25/2014 2:42 PM
(SportsNetwork.com) - There certainly aren't too many people who would have predicted that Greece and Costa Rica would meet up in the second round at this World Cup.
Yet the two underdogs will square off on Sunday in Recife for the right to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in either nation's history.
Costa Rica is one of the surprise packages of the tournament having finished on top of Group D ahead of Uruguay, Italy and England.
The Ticos pulled off upset wins over Uruguay and Italy with a high-pressure style before securing the top spot in the group with a 0-0 draw against England.
Greece, however, has taken a much different road to the last 16.
Head coach Fernando Santos came to Brazil on a contract that runs out the day after his side will play Costa Rica in the round of 16, illustrating the level of confidence the Greek federation apparently had in the 59-year-old and his team prior to the World Cup.
Things didn't look good after Greece opened the tournament with a 3-0 defeat to Colombia, and it appeared as if the Greeks were primed for a brief stay in Brazil.
And the situation looked especially bleak when midfielder Kostas Katsouranis was sent off in the 38th minute in Greece's second match against Japan, leaving his teammates to play the final 52 minutes with 10 men.
A 1-0 loss at that point would have all but eliminated the Greeks, but the team dug in and was able to hold out for a 0-0 draw against Japan to remain alive.
That brings us to the final Group C match for Greece, which needed to beat Ivory Coast and also required a loss or draw for Japan against Colombia.
The South Americans did their part in beating the Japanese, 4-1, and that left it in the hands of Greece, which turned in easily its best performance of the competition in snatching a last-gasp 2-1 win over the Elephants.
Greece is not a team that worries about being aesthetically pleasing, and it shows. Rather, the Greeks are known for being tough to break down, working hard and making life difficult for the opposition while trying to make the most of a rare chance.
Against Ivory Coast, midfielder Panagiotis Kone went down with an injury after just 12 minutes, while goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis also had to be substituted in the 24th minute, leaving Santos with just one substitution for the remainder of the game.
However, Greece made the most of a mistake in the first half from Cheick Tiote that allowed Andreas Samaris to put his team up 1-0 at halftime.
That result would have been enough to put Santos' men through to the next round, but after Giorgos Karagounis was denied by the woodwork, marking the second time that Greece hit the frame of the goal, Ivory Coast struck back through Wilfried Bony to level the match with 15 minutes to play.
Greece now needed a second goal in order to advance, and as the match entered stoppage time, it looked like the team would come up just a bit short.
But then Ivory Coast forward Giovanni Sio tripped Greek frontman Giorgios Samaras, allowing him to fire home a pressure-packed penalty kick to send his side to the next round for the first time in its history.
"The best team won; the one with the best strategy, most desire and most chances on the night," Santos said of his Greek side. "The win was deserved and we showed what we can do. In the first two matches we weren't focused, which is usually our great strength."
Greece pulled off a miraculous run to the Euro 2004 title in much the same fashion, but in order to continue to reach new heights at the World Cup, the team must be focused and opportunistic.
Some sides are able to get by on talent alone with one or two superstar players providing individual moments of magic to lift their team.
The Greeks are not one of those sides. They will rely on hard work, determination, and the one attribute that helped them reach the knockout round for the first time, resilience.
And maybe those traits will be enough to force Santos to extend his current contract by a few days.
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