A second consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals represents a huge success for a Greece side who have set their sights on going one step further than they did in South Africa and advancing past the group stage.
Greece recorded their first victory and scored their first goals at the World Cup four years ago after an embarrassing maiden World Cup appearance in 1994, when they lost all three group games and conceded 10 goals without reply.
For Greece coach Fernando Santos, who will leave his post after the World Cup, the target is clear.
“The first aim of Greece is to advance and then we will see,” said the Portuguese, who also led the Euro 2004 champions to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
“We are not going there on holiday. This is our third World Cup appearance and we want to make it to the next stage for the first time.”
Drawn in Group C with Colombia, Ivory Coast and Asian champions Japan, both the South American and the African teams are physically stronger than the Greeks while Japan are viewed as another uncomfortable opponent.
There is, however, no clear favorite in the pool and Greece’s trademark rock-solid defense, which let in just four goals in 10 qualifiers, will again serve as their strongest asset.
Three of those goals were conceded in a 3-1 loss to Bosnia, meaning Greece let in just one goal in the other nine games.
Forward Dimitris Salpingidis, who scored four goals in the qualifiers, including one in the playoff against Romania, said:
“This time our aim is to reach the last 16. We’re in a finely balanced group with no major favorites. It won’t be easy, but we can do it.
“We have the quality to score at any point. To win, you have to score goals.”
But with just 12 goals in their 10 qualifiers, one more than Slovakia who finished 12 points behind them in third, the Greeks need to improve their scoring rate.
The team did show in their qualification playoff against Romania that they can score more than one goal when it matters, easing into the tournament with a 4-2 aggregate win with striker Kostas Mitroglou on target three times in the two games.
A lot will depend on the Fulham striker, who missed the last months of the season due to a knee injury, and his form at the tournament.
His goals are likely to spell the difference between a spot in the next stage or a short stay in Brazil. But he, like the rest of the team, will need to improve because he has had a miserable build-up to the tournament.
Hampered by injury, he has made just two league appearances for Fulham and is yet to score for the misfiring London club, who were relegated from the Premier League. [Reuters]