Greece pay the price for toothless attack
Fernando Santos (AFP)
June 29 - Greece's World Cup exit in the round of 16 on Sunday came as no real surprise after they again struggled for goals in a major international tournament, netting only three time in four games.
Greece's 1-1 draw with exciting Costa Rica, who advanced after a 5-3 penalty shootout win, came after a last-gasp 2-1 win over Ivory Coast following a 3-0 opening defeat by Colombia and a goalless draw against Japan.
It was as if the game of football avenged Greece's long-disliked defensive tactics, with Costa Rica taking a page out of their opponents book and punishing them.
Greece had twice before qualified for a World Cup but managed just two goals in their previous six matches in 1994 and 2010.
This time they scored three in four games with none of the goals coming from a striker in open play.
The 3-0 opening loss to Colombia put them on the back foot from the start with key striker Kostas Mitroglou nursing a nagging knee injury and coming on only as a substitute.
Mitroglou, Greece's most expensive export when he joined Fulham for 15 million euros ($20.4 million) at the start of the year, ended up playing no significant role in Brazil.
He was ruled fit for their second game against Japan but a knock to his lower back left the Greeks without their forward late in the first half and he missed the third game.
To make matters worse captain Kostas Katsouranis was sent off just before halftime with a second yellow card, leaving the Greeks, European champions in 2004, desperately battling to keep the Japanese from scoring.
With the pair missing the decisive game against Ivory Coast, they always had a mountain to climb. A stoppage-time penalty by Giorgos Samaras surprisingly took them past the Africans into the knockout stage for the first time but goals remained a rarity.
They needed another stoppage-time goal, this time by defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, to level against Costa Rica but their inability to score was never more evident than against a team that was down to 10 men from the 66th minute.
That Greece could defend was something well known before the tournament after they conceded a mere four goals in 10 World Cup qualifiers.
But having managed to score only 12 goals in those qualifiers, it was the attack that was always going to be their weak point.
Things looked up for coach Fernando Santos' team when they booked their spot in the tournament with a 4-2 playoff win against Romania but they could never replicate that kind of attacking form in Brazil.
Despite a spirited 10-man performance to hang on for a goalless draw against Japan and keep their qualification hopes alive going into the last group game, their lack of goals ultimately caught up with them against Costa Rica.
Greece ended their most successful World Cup run with the lowest scoring tally of any team that advanced to the round of 16.