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World Cup 2014 Expert Interview: Aging Greek midfielders, defensive solidity, injury concerns and more

As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.

Greece World Cup Interview

For this interview, focusing on Greece, we spoke to ESPNFC blogger, Chris Paraskevas. Follow him on twitter @Cparaskevas

Kostas Mitroglu is obviously the man they will look to for goals, but the striker has had a few injury concerns in the last few months and is certainly not the same in-form man the Greeks had during qualifying. Will pinning goal-scoring hopes on such a player be a concern? Or will his quality speak for itself?

It goes without saying that it’s not an ideal situation to pin all of your goal-scoring hopes on one player; even without Falcao, for example, Colombia will still be able to call on the services of the in-form Carlos Bacca. Greece, haven’t quite gone to that extreme with Mitroglou, with Dimitris Salpingidis having proven at Euro 2012 that he is the man for the big occasion. He has consistently scored big goals for Greece in important matches.

However, Mitroglou brings an X-Factor that none of his fellow attackers possess. It’s not necessarily that Greece are relying on him for goals, but his sheer presence would be a huge psychological boost if he was fit and in form. I have a feeling that he’ll be able to get himself ready for the tournament and get close to something approaching his best. He might just surprise a few people in the process, but time will tell.

There are plenty of old heads still in this Greek squad. While the obvious advantage is the experience at the top level, physically they could prove to be inferior. Does the emphasis on these experienced players concern you? Or are these the exact sort of players to inspire another dream run at a big tournament like the one in Portugal?

And herein lies Greece’s biggest weakness: midfield. Both Kostas Katsouranis and GiorgosKaragounis are well past their best as footballers and it is likely that they will hold together the Greek side. Their lack of mobility against a team like Japan, for instance, could be a recipe for disaster.

However, Santos has proved adept at fielding sides that are able to mask the relative age of these two players in particular. If the side’s younger players can do the job – particularly in wide areas, where Greece will do most of their running – then Katsouranis and Karagounis in particular will be able to exert a greater, more positive influence on the game. I highly doubt they’ll be able to inspire another dream run, but the sort of experience they bring could be a crucial factor in a tight group (at least, that will be Fernando Santos’ thinking).

After Euro 2004, the Greeks have been crticised for their defensive mind-set both at World Cups and Euros. Will it be another similar approach or can we see Fernando Santos make some attacking improvements?

Put it this way: don’t expect Greece to play ‘tiki-taka’ football in their opening match against Colombia. Santos has largely reverted to type by sending out structured and highly organized sides, with an emphasis on getting men behind the ball and hitting the opposition on the counter attack.

However, the Greeks are slightly more refined under the Portuguese coach, when in possession. They know how to put together passing moves and aren’t simply going to be lumping it long to a target man (Angelos Charisteas, anyone?). What you’ll see is the Greeks soak up pressure for the majority of the match before putting their foot on the ball during concerted periods of pressure. The key is in the balance.

The defensive of the game hasn’t really been a problem for the Greek national team, we’ve spoken about Mitroglu, but how are the side expected to set-up in the centre? Where will the creativity come from?

As was outlined previously, it’ll probably be Karagounis and Katsouranis in the centre of midfield, joined by either Giannis Maniatis or possibly Alexandros Tziolis (most likely the former). Of that midfield trio, Karagounis is the most creative and will take on set-piece duty, but I suspect much of the creative burden in this team will fall on Georgios Samaras.

On his day (admittedly ‘his day’ doesn’t come often enough) the Celtic striker can be a real handful and both he and Dimitris Salpingidis aren’t afraid to cut in from wide areas and look to get moves going. Between those two and Karagounis, you’ve got some decent passers of a football. Mitroglou, with his willingness to try the more audacious, would be the ideal addition. In general, this side does suffer from a lack of creativity, however.

What are expectations like in Greece about the countries chances? For a country ravaged by financial & economic concerns, how big a role is the Greek football team playing in inspiring hope among the citizens once again?

Without wanting to trivialize what is happening in Greece at the moment by using the old “football unites” cliché, the national team would certainly put smiles on a few faces in Greece. Karagounis is almost always pointing out the duty Greek players have to their fellow countrymen when they pull on the jersey and that sort of rhetoric is reflective of a siege mentality within the current squad.

Certainly at Euro 2012, there was a tangible sense of both relief and joy that the Greek side qualified for the quarter finals (and set up a symbolic showdown with Germany). If they can do the same at the World Cup, they’d be allowing people back home at least a momentary escape from their troubles.

2014 FIFA World Cup Group C

We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Kostas Manolas and Stefanos Kapino are the only two players who qualify for the feature. The latter was also the #1 keeper to watch in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014. Are either of them expected to play a role in the side?

Actually, Orestis Karnezis is almost certain to be Greece’s No.1 in Brazil, having played a key role during the qualifying campaign and enjoying a highly successful season in Spain with Granada.

Manolas will really be pushing for a starting berth alongside Sokratis Papastathopoulos and his performances in the UEFA Champions League this season could convince Fernando Santos that he’s ready for a World Cup. However, he’ll have to fend off Vangelis Moras – who also enjoyed an excellent campaign abroad with Hellas Verona – for a starting spot. That’s a tough one to call, but I’d expect Manolas to get the nod.

Greece’s group is not as difficult but qualification is not going to be easy. How far do you realistically see Santos’ side progressing till?

Realistically, Greece probably aren’t the favourites to progress – arguably they will be most people’s tips to finish last in this group. But this team are tougher than people think and they proved that at Euro 2012 with a couple of batting performances that won the plaudits of neutrals. If they can get out of their group, that would be a good achievement – anything beyond that would be a huge bonus.

Read all our World Cup Interviews here, and all other WC2014 related content here.

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