Greece out to upset the odds at World Cup

PARIS, May 23, 2010 (AFP) - Greece are gracing the World Cup stage for only the second time in their history after a baptism of fire on their debut back in 1994.

In the United States there was never any danger of the Greeks shedding their minnow status as they sank to 4-0 defeats to Argentina and Bulgaria and a 2-0 loss to Nigeria to get sent home at the first hurdle.

Under Otto Rehhegal the class of 2010 will be disappointed not to leave South Africa having made a far greater impression on proceedings than was the case 16 years ago.

With the tactical nous and backbone instilled by their veteran German coach Greece have established a recent record that many a more established footballing power would be happy to hold.

Six years ago they ran amok in Portugal, turning up at Euro 2004 as rank outsiders and leaving Lisbon as continental champions - Rehhegal feted as a celebrity on his return to Athens.

The 'galanoleyki' then failed to put up much resistance in trying to hold on to their title in Switzerland and Austria in 2008 - failing to get past the first round.

That limp showing on top of failure to reach the 2006 World Cup may have brought Rehhegal's tenure to a premature end but the Greek Football Federation stuck by their man.

And he repaid the vote of confidence in style by guiding the national team to South Africa with his men drawn in Group B where they come up against old foes Nigeria.

Also in their first round pool are former champions Argentina and 2002 semi-finalists South Korea.

Greece were quick out of the blocks in qualifying for South Africa, racing to wins in their first three qualifiers, firing in eight goals against Luxembourg, Latvia and Moldova to none conceded.

Two subsequent defeats to Switzerland and a draw with Moldova made things interesting but Greece sealed a play-off spot behind Switzerland with a final day win over Luxembourg.

In the play-offs Greece faced a side they knew only too well in the shape of Ukraine, who had taken four points off them in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup where Ukraine fell to eventual winners Italy in the quarter-finals.

But this time around it was the Greeks who were celebrating, a goalless first leg draw in Athens followed by a 1-0 win in Kiev with Dimitrios Salpingidis producing the crucial goal.

The perfect way to mark Rehhegal's 100th match in charge and he is now hard at work with his 25-strong squad at a Swiss training camp.

"I hope everyone is healthy. At the World Cup the best teams in the world will be participating and we need to be at 100 percent of our potential to make our presence felt," he said.

A spirited run by the Greeks in South Africa will be just the tonic to help lift spirits in a nation struggling with an enormous mountain of debt as a result of the global economic meltdown.

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