Santos' tactics help Greece advance
If Otto Rehhagel forever goes by the moniker of "King Otto" for masterminding Greece's Euro 2004 triumph, then Fernando Santos is surely deserving of the title of "Portuguese Prince."
This was a career-defining victory for the former Benfica boss, as it was for the oft-maligned Georgios Samaras, as the two conjured up one of the great World Cup escape acts.
The former Celtic player has his critics for both club and country, but it was here that he finally delivered on years of promise. An assist and an injury-time, match-winning, qualification-sealing penalty were just some of his contributions on a famous night in Fortaleza, Brazil.
That was made possible only by the faith shown in him by his manager, however, with Santos giving Samaras the responsibility of playing as Greece's lone striker.
It was but one gamble of many that paid off hugely for the 59-year-old tactician, who has again proved himself a master of course correction.
Ahead of this game, he had seen his side crumble against Colombia and fronted the press amidst reports of internal division that seemed to border on mutiny. At least one player -- Giannis Maniatis -- booked a flight back home to Greece after a dressing-room disagreement ahead of the Japan game.
That Santos has been able to turn things around is a testament to his resolve and that of his players.
Yes, his hand was forced by the absence of Kostas Katsouranis -- who for most Greek fans leads a charmed life as a first-team starter -- through suspension.
But the manager took a huge gamble in building this attack around the mercurial Samaras, while also handing Lazaros Christodoulopoulos a starting berth.
The Bologna man's selection was an almost complete shock, but he terrorized the Ivory Coast and was one of the catalysts for Greece's win. It was a truly inspired decision to include him in the starting XI.
Giorgos Karagounis also vindicated his place with a performance that, as per usual, oozed class. He hit the crossbar and was replaced when his 37-year-old legs finally gave way.
Both Euro 2012 and this World Cup have followed a similar pattern for Santos. On both occasions, he took two games to get his tactics and personnel selections spot on.
Managers are often scapegoats for the shortcomings of players, so it seems only fair that praise is given to Greece's coach not only for correcting his errors but for also staying loyal to certain individuals.
To say that both Samaras and Jose Holebas underperformed in the first two matches would be an understatement. But Santos has stuck with them through thick and thin throughout his tenure.
Holebas -- whom I have criticized in the past for not being suited to the rigours of international football -- was imperious on the left flank and hit the crossbar in the first half.
Inside the opening 25 minutes of the match, Greece were forced into a major reshuffle when goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis and in-form midfielder Panagiotis Kone succumbed to injuries.
Kone's departure could have been disastrous, but it speaks volumes for Santos' decision-making that his replacement in midfield, Andreas Samaris, scored the opening goal of the game.
Even more impressive was the way that Greece opened up in this match, a world away from the reactionary anti-football they are reputed for. They hit the crossbar three times and should have won comfortably.
There were endeavour, spirit and tenacity, and with the performance, the ghosts of USA 1994 (during which Greece embarrassed itself on the world stage) were finally laid to rest.
Greece's terrible record at the World Cup has now been set right, and it was refreshing to see it done in such an adventurous and entertaining style.
Santos -- despite his previous mistakes in Brazil -- has been the architect of this truly remarkable revival, and a place in the quarterfinals is well within reach of a team that was being tipped to finish last in this group.
Insipid performances at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup have been corrected at both Euro 2012 and this World Cup, where unfancied Greece have made it back-to-back qualification for the knockout stages of a major tournament.
It is the stuff of dreams, and if this team can get past Costa Rica in the next round, the "Portuguese Prince" might just be anointed the next king of Greek football.