by Chris Blake
While there was disappointment after the Greeks lost to a 10-man Costa Rica side in the Round of 16 at the World Cup, looking at the big picture the 2014 run should be remembered as Greece’s historical first foray past the group stage.
This World Cup marked Greece’s third appearance on this stage, and the National Team’s advance is significant, considering the first two times the Greeks were out after the first round.
After an escape from the so-called “Group of Life,”which included Ivory Coast, Japan, and Colombia, Greece matched up with one of the surprises of the tournament – Costa Rica. Despite playing with an extra man from the 66th minute on, after the Ticos’Oscar Duarte received his second yellow card, it took Greece until extra time to level the match with one goal.
The Greeks dominated the ball in extra time, but could not come away with the winning tally and eventually fell in a shootout.
Veteran captain Giorgos Karagounis announced his retirement following the World Cup. He is the owner of 139 caps with the National Team and was one of two remaining players from Greece’s improbable UEFA Euro 2004 triumph.
Manager Fernando Santos is also out the door, having failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension with the Hellenic Football Federation.
Looking forward, the Greeks must gather a younger and more skilled team. There is a good base already in place, especially along the back line with defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Konstantinos Manolas. Up front, 29-year-old Georgios Samaras and 26-year-old Konstantinos Mitroglou will try to help Greece build an identity on offense moving forward.
To put a finishing touch on their dramatic run to the knockout round, the Greek players refused their World Cup bonus money – instead donating it to the Hellenic Football Federation to build a new training facility.