While the offense Greece has mustered in this World Cup tournament has been far from impressive, it must be said that their goals are always timely ones.
Greece doubled its scoring tally from the entire World Cup by scoring twice in its match on Tuesday against a resilient Cote d’Ivoire squad. With those two goals and a controversial penalty call, Greece has advanced out of Group C and into the round of 16.
The odds for Greece advancing out of Group C seemed improbable given the fact that the Greek squad was scoreless in both of its first games in Brazil. Yet, against all odds, Greece is advancing while traditional European powers are headed back home after being eliminated. England, Italy and Spain have all been eliminated before even making it out of the group play stage.
A Controversial Call Sets Up Cote d’Ivoire’s Heartbreaking Loss
Adding to the drama was the heartbreaking loss for Cote d’Ivoire. The Ivory Coast squad was mere minutes away from advancing, as they needed only a draw with Greece to make it out of Group C. That was not to be, however. Giovanni Sio was judged to have obstructed Giorgos Samaras in the Cote d’Ivoire penalty area, which resulted in a controversy penalty kick for Greece.
Samaras, cool and collected, took advantage of the controversial call by knocking in the winning goal that ended Cote d’Ivoire’s dreams of advancing. With that goal, the Greeks collected the three points that they needed and improbably join Colombia, the winners of Group C, in advancing into the round of 16.
Afterwards, Samaras dedicated the improbable victory to the Greeks that are suffering through the financial crisis back home. “We really hope we can make the people happy back home. We are a team. A team- that’s it,” Samaras remarked. Samaras’ goal led to a wild celebration in Athens, where the game ended late into the early morning. While the mood for Greece was elation, Cote d’Ivoire’s mood was the polar opposite. Such is the nature of this wildly improbable group stage at the 2014 World Cup. “Cote d’Ivoire is a great football nation. And this was a cruel game, a cruel game,” stated Cote d’Ivoire coach Sabri Lamouchi. “After so much hard work and so much sacrifice, all of us and everyone in the Ivory Coast is very sad.”
Important Moments of the Match and Match Notes
Greece started off the scoring in this one, as substitute Andreas Samaris took advantage of a careless pass backwards by Cote d’Ivoire’s Ivorian Ismael Tiote. Samaris placed the ball in the back of the net to give Greece a 1-0 advantage heading into halftime.
The resilient Ivory Coast squad was not willing to go away quietly, however. In the 74th minute, substitute Wilfried Bony was set up beautifully by his teammate Gervinho, as he managed to beat Greek goalkeeper Pangiotis Glykos from in close. This goal certainly appeared to be the one that Cote d’Ivoire would need in order to get the draw they desperately wanted and advance to the round of 16.
That was not to be, however, as the late drama was about to unfold. After Sio’s penalty, Samaras sent the spot kick past Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry to make the difference. Barry guessed correctly regarding the direction of the ball, yet his efforts were not enough to prevent the ball from touching the back of the net.
Yaya and Kolo Toure started for the Cote d’Ivoire squad despite the recent passing of their brother Ibrahim. The entire team wore black armbands in a demonstration of support and a sign of mourning. Cote d’Ivoire star Didier Drogba started the match as well.
The Greeks had a handful of scoring opportunities that they did not cash in on Tuesday, twice hitting the crossbar in the first half of action. Midfielder Pangiotis Kone and goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis were also injured in an eventful first half, which forced the Greek side to make earlier substitutions than they might have liked.
Did the Best Team Win?
While many that viewed the game and its controversial ending would have a difficult time emphatically agreeing that Greece was the superior team, Greek players and coaches certainly felt that way. Samaras, who scored the game winner, said as much. “we played better than Ivory Coast,” remarked Samaras. “we had opportunities to finish this match after 1-0, but we never stopped believing that we can qualify until the last minute. We are proud for this team and I hope all of Greece are proud of us.” Greece’s coach, Fernando Santos, echoed a similar view. He said, “In terms of the passion of the players and intelligence, we should consider that a fair and just victory. I told them this wasn’t a match with no tomorrow. I saw a tomorrow and Samaras was the best player to take the penalty kick. He practiced them in training and I think that was good fate.”
While the Greeks seem resolute in their opinion, it is unlikely that the majority of others feel the same way, as Greece has long been criticized for what has been termed “negative football”, but again Santos seems unfazed by the criticism. “All I can do is laugh,” Santos said. “Football has two aspects: one is to defend and one is to attack. Our team has their own characteristics. We have shown that we can play offensively.”
In any event, these assertions by the Greeks and the controversial ending itself are likely destined to become a non-story thanks to Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and his biting incident. The Uruguayan star is currently under FIFA investigation for biting an Italian player in their 1-0 victory.
Greece has a system that is easy to ridicule, but it is time to recognize that their system is highly effective. Despite earning a reputation that they play bland football, the Greek counter-attack tonight was impressive, even leading to a key goal right before the first half.
While Ivory Coast has been blessed with exceptional players for over a decade now, it may be time to retool and rethink where the nation is at moving forward. While their stars seemed energized and focused, there seemed to be a certain amount of chemistry lacking. Indeed, their star power offensively seemed to be a group of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. Fittingly, the equalizer in the 74th minute was accomplished from the bench rather than one of their stars. It seems clear that Ivory Coast needs something different and some changes for the next World Cup. Drogba limping off late into the game seemed to only reinforce that notion. In any event, there is far too much talent for Cote d’Ivoire for them to stay down long. Look for the proud African nation to find a way to rebound in the next World Cup.