2014 World Cup Team Preview: Greece

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Getting to know… Greece
Greece are quietly (and some might say, boringly) one of the world soccer’s greatest powers. Well, of the 21st century, anyway. Prior to 2004, no one paid Greece much attention. Then they went on to win the 2004 European Championship.

Their success in the Euros ten years ago marked them out as formidable opponents, although they failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, and only made it to the group stage of Euro 2008. Greece then went to South Africa but failed to get out of the group stages.

However, they’re currently ranked 10th in the world, however surprising that might be. Greece did manage to make it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, but needed to win a playoff to reach Brazil. In this case, focusing on their ranking may be overestimating the side – but it’s always wise to remember that this strong defensive unit can take points off top teams.

Record in qualifying
Greece finished even on points with Bosnia in UEFA Group G, both winning eight, losing one and drawing one for a total of 25 points. But Bosnia’s +24 goal difference far outweighed the Greeks’ +8.

That meant a two-legged playoff with Romania, who’d finished behind Netherlands. Surprisingly, considering Greece had scored no more than two goals in any match in qualifying, they ran out 3-1 winners in the first leg. The second finished a 1-1 draw, but it mattered little. Greece won 4-2 on aggregate and were set for Brazil.

Oh, and Kostas Mitroglou scored three of Greece’s four goals in the playoff round. The same Kostas Mitroglou who went to Fulham and was never seen again.

A look at Group C
Nothing about Group C looks easy. Colombia, the top seeds, are one of the dark horses in this year’s World Cup, even if Radamel Falcao doesn’t get back to full fitness in time. Ivory Coast are getting on in years, but they have Yaya Touré, who had a superb season at Manchester City, and Didier Drogba, who might be 36 but can still score some immense goals. And then there’s Japan, whose attacking threat may be enough to wear down Greece’s defenses.

Game schedule

Sunday, June 15 at 12 noon: Colombia vs. Greece (Estadio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte)

Thursday, June 19 at 6 p.m.: Japan vs. Greece (Arena das Dunas, Natal)

Tuesday, June 24 at 4 p.m.: Greece vs. Ivory Coast (Estadio Castelão, Fortaleza)

Star player
Greece lack a certain star quality. They’ve got a few players in Italy, two at Fulham, and most of the rest in the domestic league. The star, almost by default, becomes Kostas Mitroglou, he of the famed $20m move to Fulham, back in January. But a persistent knee problem, combined with doubts expressed by manager Felix Magath, kept the forward out of the starting lineup. In his four months at the club, Mitroglou started just once.

But Mitroglou has scored eight goals in 28 appearances for his country, including those vital goals in the playoff against Romania. And considering coach Fernando Santos cut three other strikers from his preliminary squad, it makes sense to keep one that’s been able to step up in important games.

Manager
Fernando Santos has been at the helm since 2010, after coaching domestic club PAOK for three seasons. Despite being voted Greece’s best coach of the decade in 2010, the shadow of his predecessor still lingers.

Santos took over from Otto Rehhagel, the coach that lead Greece to their Euro triumph. And while the Portuguese tactician has attempted to introduce a different style to the national team, little has changed. Greece are still known primarily for their defensive strength…

Secret weapon
Which is, of course, their not-so-secret weapon. If you’re not an avid watcher of European tournaments or qualifiers, you may not know just how much Greece rely on their defense. After all, they lost to both South Korea and Argentina by a 2-0 scoreline in 2010, and beat Nigeria 2-1.

But Greece pride themselves on being as stingy as possible. They conceded just four times in qualifying, a record bettered only by Cup holders Spain. Yet Greece faced rather weak competition from the rest of Group G, and in their second meeting with Bosnia, the latter knocked in three. Will their weapon fail them in Brazil?

Prediction
Greece will barely have any time to unpack their bags. It’s highly unlikely they’ll make it out of the group stages, and a last-place finish in Group C is well within the realm of possibility.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Spurs clash in early London derby

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Manchester United continued its strong early-season impression on the Premier League on Saturday, but Sunday’s slate of matches features two of last year’s elite meeting at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man United runs rampant on Swansea in victory ]

Tottenham and Chelsea will clash in their first London derby of 2017/18 at the historic ground, while a meeting between two promotion sides precedes the encounter.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]


Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United — 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

In the first clash this season between newcomers, Huddersfield will go for its second consecutive win as David Wagner‘s side plays host to Newcastle.

The Terriers kicked off their ’17/’18 campaign in style last Saturday with a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, and the side looked quite dominant for most of the match.

Newcastle saw their fortunes change drastically against Tottenham after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off after halftime. The Magpies struggled to handle the talent of Spurs after the sending off, conceding twice after Shelvey’s dismissal.

Joselu could also make his debut for Newcastle on Sunday after joining the club from Stoke this summer.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea — 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Antonio Conte‘s second season in the Premier League began with an anything but ideal result last weekend as Chelsea fell to Burnley, 3-2, at Stamford Bridge.

To make matters worse, red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas rule the two players out for Sunday’s clash against Spurs. With Eden Hazard and Pedro still likely to miss the match due to injury, Chelsea does have some good news as Victor Moses returns from suspension and Tiemoue Bakayoko could make his PL debut — although it will likely come off the bench.

New striker Alvaro Morata looks to build off of his goal and an assist performance from last weekend up front, and the Spaniard could very well start for Chelsea after coming off the bench against Burnley.

Meanwhile, Spurs looks to build off of its victory against Newcastle last weekend, which featured goals from Dele Alli and Ben Davies.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s side went out and made their first major signing of the summer this week with the acquisition of Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez, and the Argentine manager says his club isn’t done adding players.

Bundesliga wrap: Pulisic shines (again); Schalke tops RB Leipzig

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The Bundesliga dipped its toes into a new season on Friday with Bayern Munich’s win over Bayer Leverkusen, then dove right into the waters on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]


Hertha Berlin 2-0 Stuttgart

Australian attacker Mathew Leckie had a heck of a debut for Hertha, scoring in each half of a win over newly-promoted Stuttgart. Former USMNT player Julian Green was not in the 18 following reports that Stuttgart could sell the winger.

Schalke 2-0 RB Leipzig

Last season, Schalke finished a shocking season at mid-table while RB Leipzig went from newly-promoted to second in the league.

Order was restored for a weekend on Saturday, as ex-Spurs man Nabil Bentaleb converted a penalty kick before halftime to give Schalke a 1-0 lead. Yehven Konoplyanka added insurance in the second half as Schalke started the season right.

Wolfsburg 0-3 Borussia Dortmund

Christian Pulisic scored Borussia Dortmund’s first goal of the Bundesliga season, the cued up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a inch-perfect pass through the six to make it 3-0 at Wolfsburg. Marc Bartra also scored for the visitors.

Elsewhere

Bayern Munich 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Mainz 0-1 Hannover 96 — Martin Harnik scores
Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg — Bobby Wood plays 87 mins
Hoffenheim 1-0 Werder Bremen — Kramaric scores
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday

Wenger: Arsenal lost a game it should have won

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Saying, “You don’t want to lose games that you should win,” Arsene Wenger lamented everything that went against his men in Arsenal’s 1-0 loss at Stoke City on Saturday.

“It’s a difficult defeat to swallow,” Wenger said. “We had chances. We should have won the game comfortably.”

The Gunners had a pair of penalty shouts go unheard and saw an Alexandre Lacazette goal called back for offside.

[ RECAP: Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal ]

If it was offside, it was as thin as the garlic in Paulie Cicero’s “Goodfellas” sauce.

“We scored a goal that is not offside. It’s a very easy decision. When the ball is kicked he is not offside, Lacazette.”

And those thin margins are what cost title contenders their season-ending goals. Here’s Wenger (all quotes from the BBC):

“I believe some teams will get something here, that is why if you want to play at the top you have to consider it three points dropped.”

Arsenal had 77 percent possession, but allowed Jese Rodriguez to score on one of the few times the Potters had the ball. Of that, Wenger said “I was not convinced by our central defense today.”

Report: Atletico closing in on $52 million move for Diego Costa

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images
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The Diego Costa-Chelsea saga has not only intrigued but confused many, however, the London side could be on the brink of finally selling off the Spanish international.

[ MORE: United cruises past Swansea, Arsenal falls at Stoke ]

Atletico Madrid has reportedly struck a $52 million deal with the Blues for the 28-year-old striker, according to Spanish radio station Radio Estadio.

The report also states that an additional $12 million could be tacked on to Costa’s price tag.

Costa has been an absentee for Chelsea since the end of last season’s Premier League title, and ever since that glorious moment for the club, the Brazilian-born forward has been disgruntled with the Blues and manager Antonio Conte.

Atleti, however, won’t go ahead with the deal until Costa returns from Brazil to resolve his issues with Chelsea.

The Spanish side is currently banned from completing transfers until January, meaning an agreement could take place with Chelsea, but Costa cannot suit up for the Rojiblancos until 2018.