RECIFE, Brazil – Greece coach Fernando Santos has challenged his team to “rewrite history” when they face Costa Rica in the World Cup’s round of 16 on Sunday, but it is a lesson from his side’s own past that is making him extra wary.
It is 10 years since Greece surprised the footballing world by winning the European Championship with a team built on dogged defense and rigid organization, and Santos sees similarities between those 2004 champions and the current Costa Rica lineup.
The Central Americans were tipped by few to make it to the last 16 out of the highly-competitive Group D which included former world champions Italy, Uruguay and England. As it was, they finished top of the pile, with seven points from their three games.
“(They were in the) Group of Death, and their qualification astonished everyone who liked to issue opinions,” Santos told a news conference on Saturday.
“They were saying there are three world champions and they will qualify, but Costa Rica showed the opposite.
“That reminded me of Greece in 2004. An unknown team that secured this historical achievement and this is one more reason why we must pay attention to them. They are here it because they are a great team.”
Santos, who replaced Euro 2004 winning coach Otto Rehhagel in 2010, has led Greece to the knockout stage of the tournament for the first time.
They finished runners-up in Group C thanks to a last-gasp penalty from Giorgos Samaras, which gave them a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast.
“After the group stage, it is an opportunity to rewrite history,” Santos said.
“There have only been eight winners (of the World Cup), but this is an excellent opportunity to go on and continue to enjoy playing in this unique tournament.”
The Greek success in 2004 remains a powerful memory and motivation for the current squad. Among them is defender Vassilis Torosidis, who was just starting out on his professional career at the time.
“I loved this team,” he said. “These moments were unforgettable, we were so happy.
“This is water under the bridge now, we still remember those great moments… and hope we can emulate the achievement of those players in 2004.”
A quarter-final against either the Netherlands or Mexico awaits the winners of Sunday’s clash, but having already surpassed their previous best at the tournament, Torisidis says they can now relax.
“There is no pressure. There was pressure in the group stage when our objective was to qualify for the last-16,” he said.
“Of course we cannot be complacent. It is a huge opportunity for the country and we want to qualify and be among the top eight teams in the world.
“We will have to play even better than we did against Ivory Coast. They are very well-structured and have good tactics; they are a real team in every sense. But we have as good a chance to qualify as them.” [Reuters]
* The match will be broadcast live on NERIT, NERIT HD and NERIT Sports at 11 p.m. Greek time.