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 Posted by Chris Paraskevas
Jun 14, 2014

Embarrassment of '94 haunts Greece

2014 FIFA World Cup Group C: Colombia 3-0 Greece

In the build-up to Greece's third appearance at the World Cup, former internationals Stratos Apostolakis and Nikos Machlas were asked to give their thoughts on the campaign in Brazil.

The two were part of the Greece squad at USA '94, where the country made its debut at football's showpiece event.

That campaign is an infamous one among Greece fans: the team went out at the group stage, conceding 10 goals, scoring none and suffering three defeats. The lack of professionalism, organisation and discipline shown on and off the pitch has since been well-documented.

Both Apostolakis and Machlas echoed identical sentiments about the 1994 World Cup debacle: that it was a necessary part of Greece's learning curve on the international stage.

The 2010 World Cup represented some degree of progress, with Greece scoring its first goal and win as it edged Nigeria 2-1 in its second group game.

ColombiaColombia
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This performance against Colombia, however, again evoked painful memories of '94.

Greece capitulated in Belo Horizonte, as players pointed accusatory fingers at each other while Jose Pekerman's side strolled to a 3-0 win.

The abject display and heavy defeat is another disappointing chapter in this country's short World Cup history.

Another slow start

What is it about Greece and slow starts at major tournaments? In 2010, rumoured in-fighting ahead of a 2-0 defeat to South Korea in the opening game cost Otto Rehhagel's team a place in the knockout stages. At Euro 2012, the Greeks escaped with a draw in the first game of the tournament against Poland, where they were criminally sluggish in the first half.

Against Colombia, the trick was repeated. It took just five minutes for Pablo Armero to squeeze home a comical opener, with a combination of flat-footed defending and poor keeping gifting the South Americans the lead.

It took less than five minutes for Pablo Armero and Colombia to split open the Greek defence.
It took less than five minutes for Pablo Armero and Colombia to split open the Greek defence.

Greece is a side that can't afford to fall behind in matches, given the way they play their football. Yet consistently at the World Cup, they've contrived to gift opponents the lead and make life difficult for themselves.

Here was another example of the most frustrating trait of the Greek national team.

Strikers fail to fire

Theofanis Gekas got the nod over Kostas Mitroglou, with Fernando Santos perhaps not convinced of the latter's form and fitness.

Unfortunately for the Portuguese coach, his faith in Gekas went unrewarded, as the former Portsmouth striker turned in an ineffective performance. When presented with an open goal immediately after Greece fell behind 2-0, Gekas contrived to hit the crossbar with a diving header. It summed up his afternoon, and he was immediately replaced.

Mitroglou, meanwhile, looked out of sorts and out of sync with his teammates after making his entry off the bench. While service to the Fulham striker was nonexistent, he was easily shackled by the Colombian defence and failed to link up with any of the Greek midfielders.

Santos faces key problems

Greece manager Santos has a number of key issues to resolve ahead of the next game against Japan.

Georgios Samaras put in an inconsistent shift against Colombia.
Georgios Samaras put in an inconsistent shift against Colombia.

The first is a troublesome left-back slot, where Jose Holebas again showed his lack of suitability at international level. He looked equally uncomfortable on and off the ball and was culpable for Colombia's opening goal.

In attack, Greece were particularly disjointed, with Georgios Samaras producing an erratic display, and the normally reliable Dimitris Salpingidis looking off the pace. Ioannis Fetfatzidis' introduction off the bench did little to improve the situation, and the 23-year-old had no impact on proceedings, despite his promising form in recent friendly matches.

Also of concern to Santos will be the performance of goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, who was slow to react to Armero's deflected strike.

The Portuguese coach has proved in the past that he is unafraid to make big changes when things aren't working.

Greece's campaign now hinges on his ability to provide a solution for these problems before a crunch game against Japan in just under a week's time.

Chris Paraskevas

Chris Paraskevas is editor of FootballHellas, an English language website for Greek football, and has also worked for Goal.com and ESPN. You can follow him on twitter @cparaskevas