Victors in Euro ’04, Greece now after Olympic spoilsThe Greek gods have smiled, and they have smiled big. At this point, we all want to know how a country that’s known only for its rich culture and philosophers managed to fly well below the radar and then suddenly shock the soccer world at the Euro 2004 by clinching the championship.
Among European countries, there is hardly a single country ranked lower than the Greeks, who are ranked 35th in FIFA world rankings. Until now, the Greeks have lived up to their reputation as being a backward country in the international soccer world. Greece rarely managed to qualify for any major soccer tournaments, and when they did they were nothing but an opponent to be crushed and be done with.
Suddenly, the Greeks aren’t the laughingstock of the soccer world, and teams that are scheduled to face them are taking out a magnifying glass for a closer look.
The Koreans, who are scheduled to play Greece in the upcoming Olympics, need to do some serious thinking and planning to avoid any upsetting surprises. Remember when the opponents for the Korean Olympic team were announced not long ago? Greece wasn’t given a second thought, and many people thought that the Koreans would waltz into the next round.
Korea is scheduled to play its first match against Greece. With home field advantage going to the Greeks, this very first game takes on a very important meaning.
Yet we know very little of our opponent. Neither Kim Ho-gon, skipper of the Olympic team or the Korea Football Association has any notion how many players from the Greek national team are playing on the Olympic squad. Only now, with so little time left, are taped games being scrutinized as it becomes clear that the game against Greece won’t be a walk in the park.
Without a flashy star striker, the Greek team relies on a stingy defense with teamwork that works like a Swiss clock. In every game the Greeks played, they were able to choke the passing lanes from their opponent’s midfielders to their strikers, offering the opposing team very few legitimate chances to attack. They also had a punishing man-to-man coverage scheme backed by an endlessly running motor.
Here is a team that was able to give up only a single goal in playing against France, Portugal and the Czech Republic. The Greeks made almost 50 tackles prior to the final game. The Czechs, who were second in the category, had about 35.
Now that’s a lot of aggressive defense one has to be prepared for. How much of that defense is transferred to the Olympic team will be a key factor in influencing the outcome of the match against Korea. While being powerful in the air, the Greeks have the potential to play very economical soccer.
If this team is to be broken, speed is of the essence here. The Koreans need to set a fast pace which would break the cohesion of the Greek team and at the same time create space. Or they could use the same tactics applied by the Greeks ― a pack defense waiting for its opponent to make a mistake.
As I see it, right now both teams are on an even footing, and when that’s the case, there’s only one thing that will draw the line between the winners and the losers, and that’s nerves.
by Brian Lee
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