The captain and icon of the Greece team, Georgios Karagounis is the embodiment of the dramatic emergence of Otto Rehhagel’s side.
Now 33, the midfielder has collected an impressive array of honours during his career at the top. Aside from forming part of the team that won UEFA EURO 2004, he has also pocketed Greek league and cup winners’ medals with Panathinaikos, and won the Coppa Italia with Inter Milan and a Portuguese Super Cup with Benfica. On top of all that he will also lead out his country at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, their second appearance at the world finals.
Karagounis started his professional career as an 18-year-old with Panathinaikos in 1995. Within a year, however, he moved to Apollon Smirnis, where he would turn in some fine displays over the next two years.
Suitably impressed, Pana brought him back to Athens and gave him a place in the first team. Karagounis did not disappoint, earning widespread recognition and becoming a mainstay of the side until Inter Milan lured him away in 2003.
After two years at the San Siro he moved on to Benfica for another two seasons before coming back full circle and rejoining Panathinaikos. Promptly pulling on the captain’s armband, Karagounis inspired his side to the Greek Super League title in his first season back, taking to two the number of championships he has won with Pana.
The veteran right-footed midfielder can strike the ball from distance and is deadly from set-pieces, as he showed in stroking home a superb free-kick against Manchester United in the group phase of the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League.
Skills such as those are also invaluable to the national side, which, as Karagounis recognises, has to make the most of the few attacking resources at its disposal. “We play a defensive game, and we need attack a little bit more,” he has commented in the past.
Despite those limitations, Karagounis believes his side can still compete in a tough group in which they will take on Argentina, Nigeria and Korea Republic.
“Nobody gave us a chance in Portugal in 2004 and look what happened there,” he continued before vowing that he and his team-mates would put on a strong showing in South Africa: “We are not going to South Africa for a holiday”.
For Greece fans still smarting from their disastrous showing at USA 1994, when they went out at the group stage without scoring a single goal or collecting a point, Karagounis’s fighting talk is music to their ears.