A glance at the qualifying statistics for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ tells you all you need to know about the quality of Theofanis Gekas. The Greece forward was the leading goalscorer in the European Zone with ten strikes, putting him ahead of stars such as Wayne Rooney, Miroslav Klose and David Villa.
"I was delighted, of course, but it's irrelevant who gets the goals for us. It was a very good team performance throughout, and I'd like to thank my team-mates for creating great opportunities for me to score," said Gekas in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Almost 50 per cent of Greece's goals (ten of 21) were scored by Gekas then, underlining his importance for the 2004 European champions. When talking about "Fanis", as the 30-year-old is known in his home country, former international team-mate Ioannis Amanatidis once said: "He can't head a ball, he isn't very strong and he has a poor shot." That may be an assessment he will wish to revise now, especially as the two players are set to be strike partners for Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt next season.
Gekas made the switch to Eintracht from league rivals Hertha BSC Berlin, who were unable to avoid relegation last term. "It was a very difficult campaign, we tried everything," he said. "But we failed to score enough goals, especially at home." From August he will be looking to make a real impact for the Hesse-based outfit, but first there is the small matter of the FIFA World Cup to contend with.
"Qualifying for South Africa was something very special for all of us. It was one of the greatest feelings I've experienced in my life as a footballer and a tremendous success for the entire squad, not to mention for the people who had waited so long for Greece to get to the World Cup finals again. They're ecstatic about it," he says.
The Greeks face Argentina, Nigeria and Korea Republic in the group stage. "It's a tough group, with Argentina as the favourites, but not an impossible one. We have no reason to fear Nigeria or South Korea," Gekas told FIFA.com. The draw has also handed Greece the chance to gain revenge and restore some national respect. At their last and so far only World Cup appearance in 1994 they went home early without a point or a goal to show for their efforts. Ironically, two of their opponents from back then stand in their way again, giving Greece the chance to avenge the 4-0 loss to Argentina and 2-0 defeat to Nigeria they suffered at USA 94. Gekas prefers to play a straight bat: "Just getting to South Africa was a success for us. We'll have to wait and see what happens there."
King Otto's court
The mastermind of this success is national coach Otto Rehhagel, who has been at the helm for almost ten years and at 72 will be the oldest team boss in South Africa. "He's the best coach I've ever had," said Gekas. "He came to Greece at a time when we were nobodies in the game. In just a few years he turned us into the best in Europe. Without Rehhagel the national team will have it tough again."
Gekas firmly rejects any criticism that Greece are over the hill - despite the fact that key players such as Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Angeloas Charisteas and Georgios Karagounis are all the wrong side of 30: "Rehhagel has added a lot of young blood to the squad in recent years. We now have no fewer than 17 players under the age of 26. Most of our players are still young and have lots of football ahead of them."
Asked how long he will continue playing, Gekas, who regards Brazil, Spain and Argentina as favourites to lift the trophy, says he is undecided: "The first and most important thing to me is my health. But 2014 might be a good time for me to retire form international football."