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Jun 7, 2014

Greece hit their stride against Bolivia

Greece will be hoping to maintain their strong defensive record as they match up against the free-scoring opponents of Group C.

Fernando Santos' Greece side concluded their World Cup preparations with an encouraging 2-1 win over Bolivia in Harrison, New Jersey. The Greeks now have a week to prepare for their opening game against Colombia and below are the main talking points from their final friendly match.

Greece hit their stride

Over the three friendly matches against Portugal, Nigeria and Bolivia, Santos' side have gradually shown improvement, culminating in this 2-1 win.

Against Portugal, the Greeks showed what they normally do: offering little in attack and playing reactive football. The match with Nigeria was rather more open, though the former European champions looked suspect at the back and disjointed going forward.

At the Red Bull Arena against Bolivia they delivered their most balanced and energetic performance, dominating for large parts of the game and deserving their victory.

There were particularly good displays from Panagiotis Kone and Kostas Katsouranis, with both players scoring headed goals and delivering quality performances in midfield.

Despite Bolivia's slightly pedestrian performance, the win is a huge psychological boost for Greece ahead of the World Cup.

Samaras finds his feet

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the victory over Bolivia was the performance of Georgios Samaras.

The big striker was stationed in his usual position on the left side of a three-man attack and showed glimpses of the form that terrorized Russia at Euro 2012.

It can't be understated how important Samaras is to Greece: his ability to beat players, hold up the ball and win free-kicks is instrumental to his team's all-round play. Here, his performance lifted the players around him and he was a constant outlet for his teammates.

The manner in which he combined with Kostas Katsouranis was particularly impressive, with Samaras showing a willingness to peel away from markers and run with the ball out wide.

Though he is lacking in goalscoring form, if there was any doubt about his place in the starting line-up --in light of Ioannis Fetfatzidis' recent form -- it was dispelled here.

This was the Samaras that Greece fans want to see more often and if he can perform to his best in Brazil, his team have a real chance of progressing from the group stages.

Holebas bounces back

Amongst commentators and fans there is a general consensus that Greece have a problem at left-back and that Jose Holebas isn't the solution.

The 29-year-old came under scrutiny after a nervy outing against Portugal and was dropped for the Nigeria game. His replacement, Georgios Tzavellas, was rather more convincing.

Somewhat surprisingly, Holebas returned to the starting line-up against Bolivia but was one of his country's stand-outs against the South Americans. Whilst there is a legitimate claim that the Olympiakos man shouldn't be Greece's first-choice at left-back, you have to give him credit for bouncing back in New Jersey.

Doubtless he'll be aware of the criticism surrounding his recent performances for Greece and he responded in the best way possible. He was excellent throughout the match and even provided an assist, with Katsouranis heading home from his corner in the second half.

Holebas might just have done enough to secure a starting spot against Colombia on June 14 and though he isn't most people's preferred option, he's shown the sort of fight that Greece could really use in Brazil.

Greece can play football

There are times when Greece seem to revel in the view that they embody the ethos of anti-football. Their last friendly match against Bolivia proved however that the Greeks are capable of playing attacking football and taking the initiative in matches.

It was refreshing to see Santos' men pressing high up the park, forcing errors from the Bolivian defence and playing most of the game in their opponents' half. Indeed, both goals came from a concerted period of pressure, with Greece making strong starts to both the first and second half.

That in itself is a positive sign for a team that is often guilty of sleepwalking through the opening stages of games.

The Mitroglou question

It was another cameo performance from Kostas Mitroglou in this match and questions remain over both his form and fitness ahead of the World Cup.

The Fulham striker has been nursed back to readiness after a disastrous and injury-plagued spell in the English Premier League. Fernando Santos is expected to build his attack around the forward, who has shown fleeting glimpses of his former self over these friendly matches.

Whether that will be enough to convince the Portuguese manager that he is ready to start Greece's first game remains to be seen. But with Theofanis Gekas particularly wasteful in front of goal against Bolivia, the importance Mitroglou's return to the starting line-up has been underlined.