Group B: Greece

Some had wondered whether Otto Rehhagel had outlived his usefulness. Success in Euro 2004 was followed by failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2006 or Euro 2008. The Greek FA remained patient, though, and Rehhagel repaid their faith with a first World Cup qualification since 1994.

“This is fantastic,” said Dimitris Salpigidis, who scored the winner in the play-off victory over Ukraine. “It’s a massive success for us, and something for Greeks all over the world to celebrate. All those people who have made negative comments about us now have their answer.”

Greece, though, still have a (partly justified) reputation for tedium, born largely of memories of their victory in Euro 2004, which was based on stifling the opposition and catching them out with dead balls.

They averaged two goals a game in qualifying, but that probably said more about the deficiencies of Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg than it did about Greece. Although they took four points off Israel, two defeats to Switzerland should be cause for concern.

That goals record, certainly, shouldn’t be taken as evidence that they have changed their approach since Euro 2004. Come the play-off, they stifled a Ukraine side that had struggled for rhythm in qualifying, drawing 0-0 at home before a 1-0 win in Donetsk.

Suddenly Rehhagel was talking about “passion” and “competitiveness” again, and the spirit of 2004 seemed reborn. A crop of tall, muscular forwards would suggest this squad is, in fact, probably stronger than that of six years ago. They will not be subtle or pretty to watch, but Greece will be rugged, and may be effective.

Strengths
Greece’s greatest strength probably remains the wiliness of their coach, Otto Rehhagel. He still believes man-marking has a place, and isn’t ashamed to play three at the back in the face of most modern footballing wisdom (although he will switch to a back four as and when necessary).

As such, Greece are likely to be the most tactically fluid side at the World Cup, at least defensively. Rehhagel with have his back-line meticulously drilled, and the team are sure to be a threat from set-pieces.

Weaknesses
It's hard to see much subtlety in Greece’s gameplan, and if they come up against a team comfortable at dealing with their aerial presence it's hard to see where goals will come from. The midfield is industrious, and wing-backs Giourkas Seitaridis and Vasilis Torosidis work the flanks relentlessly, but it's hard to see how Greece could control possession or come up with a moment of inspiration to unlock resolute opposition.

Interesting fact
In 2004 Rehhagel was named Greek of the Year, the first foreigner to win the award.

The Coach: Otto Rehhagel
The term veteran doesn’t quite seem adequate for the 71-year-old, who is the only man to have both played and managed over a 1000 games in the Bundesliga. He won a German Cup with Fortuna Dusseldorf, then led Werder Bremen to two championships, two cups and a Cup Winners’ Cup before winning the league again with Kaiserslautern in 1998.

Key Player: Theofanis Gekas
He may not have set the world alight at Portsmouth, but Gekas was top scorer in the European section of qualifying.

Probable team (3-4-3): Chalkias; Papodopoulos, Moras, Kyrgiakos; Seitiridis, Karagounis, Katsouranis, Torosidis; Salpigidis, Gekas, Charisteas

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the players
Q&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation

Fixtures
South Korea, June 12, 12.30pm, Nelson Mandela Bay
Nigeria, June 17, 3pm, Mangaung/Bloemfontein
Argentina, June 22, 7.30pm, Polokwane

Qualified via play-offs after finishing runners-up in UEFA Group Two
Latvia (A) 2-0
Moldova (H) 3-0
Switzerland (H) 1-2
Israel (A) 1-1
Israel (H) 2-1
Switzerland (A) 0-2
Moldova (A) 1-1
Latvia (H) 5-2
Play-off
Luxembourg (H) 2-1
Luxembourg (A) 3-0

World Cup record
1994 1st Round

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