SPORTS

Greece among the world’s sporting elite

One of only two countries in Europe in last 16 of both FIFA and FIBA World Cups By George Georgakopoulos

Sunday was a sour day for Greek fans, given the elimination from the World Basketball Cup to Serbia and the home loss to Romania in the opening match for soccer’s Euro 2016 qualifiers.

And yet viewing the state of the two national teams in this couple of sports that are among the most popular around the world shows that, despite its domestic crisis, Greece stands among the global elite in sports, as it is one of just two European countries to have seen their teams enter the last 16 of both World Cups, in soccer and basketball, this summer.

Six countries managed to make the first knockout stages of both the World Cups of FIFA and FIBA this summer, but only two of them were European: They were the USA, Brazil (which hosted the FIFA World Cup), Argentina, Mexico, France and Greece.

While Greece is no stranger to success on the global basketball stage, having played in the final of the 2006 tournament after beating none other than Team USA in the semis, it reached the last 16 of soccer’s World Cup for the first time ever in Brazil, while such European giants as Spain, Italy and England went home early.

In basketball, the national team is undergoing a major overhaul with the hiring of coach Fotis Katsikaris. Greece bowed out early from the World Cup in Spain, probably being the victim of its own success at the group stage, but scored five wins in six games in total and produced the kind of teamwork one would have expected from sides that have been together for a long time.

In soccer, too, Greece has a new manager in Italian Claudio Ranieri, who had to face the toughest home game in the qualifying group – against Romania – without the chance to see his new players even in a friendly game, to say nothing about having to field a team at home without its fans at the Karaiskakis Stadium.

Therefore Sunday may have seemed like a day of fall after a glorious summer for Greek team sports, but in fact it was more like winter before the spring comes again in both soccer and basketball in Greece.

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