BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

There is a Woody Allen joke that sums up Greece’s experiences in the World Cup – “Full of pain, misery and disappointment and over far too quickly.”

Allen says that about life but it is applicable to Greece in the World Cup and – to be honest – a good few other nations. The Greeks have never won a game in the World Cup or even scored. They were battered by a drugged up Diego Maradona in 1994 as featured in the documentary World Cup Hellas the pun describing the performance and they have a similar match to come after this encounter with Nigeria.

Defeat would be terminal to Greeces chances and to win they need to improve a first game performance agianst South Korea which saw their attack soaked up and their defence easily punctured.

The Nigerians need to discover not so much form as touch. They seem a tired team with every ball over hit and every pass poorly controlled. Keeper Vincent Enyeama so far emerging with the only credit and as the optimistic Kostas Katsouranis hits a shot from long, long range the custodian is required to make his first stop of the match.

The opening goal – when it comes – is a free kick far out for the Africans and the ball into the box is delivered by Kalu Uche and keeper Alexandros Tzorvas misjudges the flight as it bounces in front of him to the point where it seems as if he jumps out of the way. Peter Odemwingie is the closest Nigerian to the ball when it bounces in but even he does not seek to claim the goal or even seem to believe the ball will be going in.

It is a lead they hardly deserve but Nigeria have started their World Cup.

Alexandros Tzorvas: Pain, misery, disappointment.

The Greeks are laboured. It would be simple to say they lacked believe – a team which has never bulged the net at the World Cup are hardly enough to be confident – but individually the players look leaden footed. It is worth mentioning that Greece won Euro 2004 entirely unexpectedly but the likes of Angelos Charisteas and Giorgos Karagounis are still the meat of the squad and perhaps there has been an unwillingness to let goes those footballing heroes that has stalled the progress of the team.

The Greeks are given a lifeline. Sani Kaita and Vasilis Torosidis chase a ball off the pitch for a nothing throw in and Torosidis grabs the ball away from Kaita who responds with a high stamp on the Greek’s thigh. There is hardly any contact and Torosidis goes down as if shot in a way that loses all sympathy for the offended party but Kaita’s kick is worthy of Óscar Ruiz’s red card despite being an ineffectual assault.

The Greeks – sensing an opportunity – throw on a striker in the form of Georgios Samaras to try press for an equaliser. It is the most attacking move Otto Rehhagel has made so far in the World Cup – if not in his time as Greek manager and one that shows the desire to stop the pain, the misery, the disappointment from being over so quickly.

Dimitris Salpigidis gets on the end of a flick through by spare man Theofanis Gekas and Enyeama does will to save. Danny Shittu clears and so it continues with Greek pressure. Samaras gets a half contact on a corner which bounces through the box but Lukman Haruna hooks the ball off the line. The pressure counts when Salpigidis have the ball tucked back to him by Katsouranis and his blast takes a deflection off Haruna and nestles in the back of the Nigerian net.

Greece have not been great but Nigeria got an ill deserved goal have ten men and are on the back foot. Enyeama flies out to take the ball off the head of Samaras.

Samaras looks like he should be fighting Trojans. His beard, his hair, makes him look like a warrior.

Half time allows a consideration – just how many of the full Argentine squad will Maradona play against Greece? – and a resettling. Nigeria will consider the path they have to winning the game to come in using the individual talents they have to beat the numbers of Greek defenders knowing that a quick passage of play can outwit any number of opposition players but the Africans Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck’s is not used to sending a side out to perform in that manner and they stay with the organised approach the Scandinavian has drilled into them.

The Greeks need to make the extra man count keeping the ball away from the Nigerians, passing accurately, waiting for the chance to come and all the time wondering if the win that seems possible is worth risking the defeat that could come if they over commit.

Taye Taiwo goes off injured – Martin Keown says that he has injured his left groin – the mind boggles.

The Greeks get their chance with Enyeama saving point blank from Gekas who is gifted a free chance by a weak header across his own box by Joseph Yobo and quickly the ball recycling out to Chinedu Obasi who races up the field and slides the ball to Yakubu Aiyegbeni with only Tzorvas to beat.

Freeze a moment forever. Yakubu – a player I once saw put Bradford City to the sword for Portsmouth – has only needs to put the ball over Tzorvas. He entire career has built to this moment. This is the chance that he has been waiting for, that Lagerbäck has been planning for, that his nation holds his breath for and then as one lets out a scream of frustration as Tzorvas gets a hand to the ball and saves.

The moment unfreezes and Obasi makes a hash of following in the shot mishitting wide. The look on the faces of all in green are not chastisement just worry – will another chance come?

The Greeks have no shortage of opportunities. Salpigidis delivers a wonderful ball to Samaras who rises well and puts in a header to where a less athletic keeper might struggle to be but where the impressive Enyeama is. Heroics are followed by tragedy and a long range shot by Alexandros Tziolis is palmed away by the Nigerian keeper when he could and should have collected and Torosidis tucks the ball into the empty net.

What must it be like to be Sani Kaita now?

Karagounis is a player transformed. With the Nigerians chasing ball all second half they have tired legs and the Greek skipper uses his guile to exploit the gaps that start to appear. Having tasted victory in the European Nations Cup one wonders how this victory should it come will be qualified by the Greeks. They have beaten better tougher situations but this win – no matter how opportunist it is being the result of poor discipline and errors – presents an opportunity to reach the last sixteen of the World.

For Nigeria there is slight consolation. They seemed to have enough about them to dispatch the Greeks and play South Korea for a place in the next round but not they are left with simple maths knowing that they need to beat the Koreans and hope Argentina do not go soft on the Europeans and let them get anything from the game. The Koreans would progress with a win or a draw if Argentina win. There is a permutation in which Argentina lose to Greece and South Korea win by two goals to knock the South Americans out.

Which is not just to say that Group B enters end game but also to note how quickly teams can enter and exit consideration. Nigeria – after a half hour – were thinking about how they may progress but a moment of indiscipline has seen Greece become the first team to come from behind and win and leave the Africans looking for a miracle.


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