14-June Colombia (5pm GMT Belo Horizonte)
19-June Japan (11pm GMT Natal)
24-June Ivory Coast (9pm GMT Fortaleza)
Greece added to their growing pedigree of qualifying for major tournaments by coming through a two-legged play-off against Romania. Four years on from a group exit in South Africa, Richard Thomas believes Ethniki are better placed to make an impact on the tournament this time around.
Coach: Fernando Santos
It was never going to be an easy task replacing the iconic Otto Rehhagel, but the Portuguese has achieved everything that could realistically have been expected of him thus far. Following a highly successful spell with Greek club side PAOK, the Hellenic Football Federation appointed the 59-year-old as national team boss in 2010. A run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 has since been followed by leading the side to only their third ever appearance at a World Cup finals.
Why they could be dangerous
Under the stewardship of Santos the Greeks have retained the defensive steel and resilience that became their trademark during the unprecedented levels of success they enjoyed under Rehhagel. While they have looked to develop more of an attacking threat of late, it is their organisation that remains their main strength. What they may lack in flamboyance they make up for by playing as a cohesive and hard-working unit and that could make all the difference in a tight-looking group.
The world on his shoulders: Konstantinos Mitroglu
Greece’s hopes of making it out of the group stages for the first time in their history are likely to depend on their ability to score enough goals. Mitroglou, as the man responsible for three of the four goals scored in their two-legged play-off win over Romania, appears key to these hopes. At 26, the Fulham forward is approaching the peak years of his career and was prolific for Olympiacos before his January move to London.
Did you know?
The Greeks have lost five of the six matches they have played at World Cup finals, including all three at USA ’94 where they also failed to score a single goal. They fared slightly better in South Africa with a famous win over Nigeria sandwiched in between defeats to South Korea and Argentina, but it was still not enough to prevent group stage elimination.
Country legend: Angelos Charisteas
Angelos Charisteas will forever be remembered as a Greek footballing great. The forward netted 25 goals in 86 appearances for his country, including the winners in both the quarter-final and Final of their famous Euro 2004 triumph. He also made important contributions in helping Ethniki qualify for Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. The 34-year-old retired from international football in 2011 as the second top scorer and seventh highest appearance maker in his country’s history.
The Greeks deployed a 4-3-3 system for much of their qualification campaign and recent friendly with South Korea so it seems those are the lines along which Santos is thinking for Brazil. Mitroglou will likely spearhead the attack, with Giorgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis offering support from the flanks. The midfield three, if fit, also appear relatively settled but Santos still has decisions to make regarding the eventual make-up of his back four.
…Colombia P1 W0 D0 L1 F0 A2
…Japan P1 W0 D0 L1 F0 A1
…Ivory Coast P0 W0 D0 L0 F0 A0
Population: 11.1 million
World Cup appearances: 2
Best finish: Group Stage, USA 1994 & South Africa 2010
Famous for: Having arrived at the tournament as rank outsiders, the Ethniki knocked out holders France in the quarter-finals and beat hosts Portugal in the Final to secure a remarkable Euro 2004 triumph.
Top Division: Greek Super League
How they got to the World Cup: Finished 2nd in European Group G, then beat Romania 4-2 on aggregate in the play-offs.
FIFA World Ranking: 10
Last World Cup Appearance: South Africa 2010 – Eliminated at the Group Stage after finishing 3rd in Group B.
Continental Honours: 2004 European champions
Most Capped Player: Giorgios Karagounis (132 caps)
Leading International Scorer: Nikolaos Anastopoulos (29 goals)
Nickname: Ethniki – The National Team