Look up “defensive” in any good soccer dictionary*and you’ll find a photo of the Greece national team. More specifically, you’ll find the squad from 2004. That’s when Greece surprised the world by winning the European Championship, using a string of 1-0 victories during the knockout stages to propel them to the trophy.
Ten years on, Greece remains stereotyped as a side that focuses primarily on defense. Indeed, in qualifying they never scored more than two goals in a match, while fellow group members Bosnia and Herzegovina thumped Liechtenstein 8-1 and beat Latvia 5-0. Greece only conceded four in ten games played (three to Bosnia) but Bosnia’s haul of 30 goals meant that they went through to Brazil, while Greece needed to go through UEFA playoffs.
In the press conference on Thursday, forward Georgios Samaras seemed to confirm Greece’s devotion to defense. Explaining his manager’s strategy, he said, “just defend well and score one goal, that’s it.”
Manager Fernando Santos took exception to this characterization. He’s spoken before about the problems he’s faced trying to change Greece’s style, saying, “we’ve tried to play a different way [but] then we slipped back into our comfort zone, our defensive strength.”
In response to Samaras, Santos insisted he hadn’t stated his vision for the team in that way. He went on to say, “Defense is not the most important feature of Greece. The most important feature is Greece and the team itself. If we only played defensively we would lose.”
Perhaps not lose, but certainly draw.
Greece face Colombia on Saturday in their first game of the tournament. Even without Falcao, los cafeteros have a potent attack, stronger than any side Greece faced during qualifying – except Bosnia, and they let slip three goals in one match. Could this mean we might see a Greece side that actually attempts to get forward and score?
Neutrals can only hope.
*if these don’t exist, they should