Five things to know about the Greece-Romania playoff

Greece wants to build on a decade of football achievement, and Romania hopes to restore past glory after years of frustration.

Both are teams with few individual stars that rely on a strong group ethic, but only one of them will make it to the World Cup in Brazil.

Here are five things to know about the World Cup qualification playoff between Greece and Romania:

Top runner-up

With eight victories in qualification, Greece was Europe’s top performing runner-up, losing out on goal difference to Bosnia.

Greece coach Fernando Santos says his team now has an “obligation” to prevail in the playoffs to ensure their hard work is rewarded and to lift the spirits of their crisis-hit country.

Greece has been a regular at major tournaments since its shock victory at the 2004 European Championship, and Santos says he is certain his players will overcome a recent run of uninspiring appearances.

“We will play with heart,” the 59-year-old Portuguese coach said. “There is feeling of confidence and belief in our squad. The Romanians have an excellent team, but I believe that in the end we will qualify.”

Regaining glory

Romania had a tougher time in a qualification group dominated by the Netherlands, though ultimately managed to sideline Turkey and Hungary to finish second.

Now coach Victor Piturca has a chance to regain some of the glory of the 1990s after his country emerged from a bloody revolution and inspired the football world, led by Gheorghe Hagi.

Romania reached the quarterfinals at the 1994 World Cup but has been absent from the global competition since 1998, when members of the squad famously dyed their hair blonde before one match.

Piturca, who spent his coaching career jumping between Steaua Bucharest and the national side, is back in charge of his country for a third time and is promising to break a generation-long streak of near-misses.

Captain, no captain

Piturca hasn’t had the best of luck recently.

Romania captain Vlad Chiriches fractured his nose while playing for Tottenham against Newcastle in the Premier League on Sunday.

“He’s a valuable player and he’ll be missed,” Piturca said, adding that Florin Gardos is likely to fill in as center back.

First-choice goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu is also fighting a back injury, forcing the late inclusion of Manchester City’s Costel Pantilimon to the squad.

Greece has fewer injury worries, except for the long-term absence of Germany-based defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who has been out for nearly a year after a knee operation.

Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis, with 129 appearances, has sustained his career since moving to Fulham last year and could be key to Santos’ plans for a tightly controlled match on Friday.

All zeros

The Greeks are well known for their low-scoring victories and impenetrable defense, conceding only four goals during qualification. The record has left both coaches to openly contemplate the merits of a scoreless encounter in Piraeus.

“We do hope to score, but 0-0 would not be a bad result for us,” said Piturca, to which Santos replied: “We have many experienced players who know how to win a game without conceding at home. That is what we are hoping to achieve.”

Greece’s best scoring hope lays with towering forward Kostas Mitroglou, who has netted 14 of unbeaten Olympiakos’ 34 goals in the league this season.

Romania will have a historical advantage Friday, having won 17 of its 30 matches against Greece and holding them to a draw on eight occasions.

The Romanians also ended Santos’ 17-game unbeaten run with a 3-1 friendly win in 2011.

Veteran value

Adrian Mutu is arguably Romania’s best known player, having played at Chelsea and Juventus.

But the 34-year-old striker who currently plays on the island of Corsica for French club Ajaccio was passed over for the playoffs.

Santos, however, is seeking out his veterans. He recalled 33-year-old striker Fanis Gekas, while his playoff lineup includes two veterans from the winning 2004 team: 36-year-old Karagounis and 34-year-old Costas Katsouranis, a defensive midfielder who has played for his country 107 times. [AP]

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