The Greek players sign autographs for locals, smile wide and stoop down for photos with children and the ladies who run the concession stand at their cheerful, home-spun training camp. They breeze about the business of practice at a Durban-area secondary school with a light sensibility, joking and laughing and giving each other a good-natured hard time on a humid evening in Kwazulu-Natal.
It’s difficult to believe that in less than 48 hours they will be facing their toughest test of their 2010 FIFA World Cup™ campaign with everything on the line. “We don’t have huge stress to win this game,” goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas exclusively told FIFA.com with a smile, fresh from a bit of weights on his own after a rigorous session with his mates. “We are the underdog; and all of the pressure will be on them, but we can also imagine what a great victory it would be for Greece if we could manage it,” the Panathinaikos goalkeeper continued, his face breaking into a dreamy smile. The Greeks’ meeting with Argentina on 22 June in Polokwane is do-or-die, and up against a team that has scored five goals and conceded only once in two wins, prospects are slim indeed for the cheerful men from the Mediterranean.
“They have some of the best players in the world,” added midfielder Athanasios Prittas, before pointing the finger at Lionel Messi – Argentina’s amazing attacker – as the main threat. “We will not put a man to mark him, you can’t put a man directly on him,” the Aris Thessaloniki player, and newcomer to the national outfit, went on. “What we will do is defend from the front to the back, all of us fighting as one.” Team spirit, work ethic, solid defence are the keys according to the players, and fully in keeping with the spirit of the Greek side that shocked the football world to be crowned European champions six years ago. However, worries remain ahead of the must-win game against the tournament favourites and twice world champions whose Carlos Tevez insists will “keep on attacking.”
“[Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world, and he will be for some years to come” stated Tzorvas, who put in a sparkling performance in the 2-1 fightback against the ten men of Nigeria. “And he and [Carlos] Tevez and [Gonzalo] Higuain are not the only ones. “With the players they have on the bench they could still field one of the best teams in the world.” When asked if this star-studded line-up is something to fear, the smile turns stern, almost chastising: “No, fear is not useful.”
Considering the Albiceleste’s firepower in attack, Tzorvas is fully expecting a “busy day” between the posts, but Giorgios Samaras, a man accustomed to the pressures of the big day having played in several Old Firm derbies with Celtic, feels his side might benefit from Argentina’s success so far. “They’ve won their first two games and are likely to win the group,” the bearded striker, playing in an unfamiliar wide role, told FIFA.com. “So we don’t really know who they might be starting or resting. The only thing we can do is prepare ourselves properly.”
As the players lazily head for the showers in their humble locker-room, you can hear their jokes, banter and light insults, and even a few songs. For a team facing what many consider certain doom, the spirit of hope, carefree gaiety and confidence is nothing short of infectious. And after signing one last blue jersey and smiling graciously for one last photo, the goalkeeper has the final word: “Argentina will become just 11 men when the referee blows the whistle, and we will play a game.”