Anyone unsure of Greece’s potential to spring a surprise at a major international tournament need only think back to UEFA EURO 2004 when the team broke Portuguese hearts by beating the hosts in the final. And despite failing to make it beyond the group stage at their two FIFA World Cup™ outings to date, in 1994 and 2010, centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos refuses to believe his country go into Brazil 2014 as underdogs.
“Our national team has had some big successes as well, particularly in big tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Cup,” the 26-year-old told FIFA.com. “Favourites are the teams that are in good shape.”
The defender is a firm believer that form – rather than reputation – is the only thing that counts out on the pitch. To that end he is eager to draw on the experience gained at South Africa 2010, having been part of the side that earned Greece their first, and so far only, World Cup victory: a 2-1 triumph over Nigeria.
“I have fond memories of that tournament,” said the chiselled defender, known simply as Sokratis due to his tongue-twisting surname. “It was my first time playing at a World Cup and Greece won for the first time. I was very happy with that victory.”
'Anything is possible'
Yet as satisfying as that was, the 47-time international has set his sights somewhat higher this time around, with the target now to reach the knockout stages at the very least. To get there Greece will have to get past Colombia, Japan and Côte d’Ivoire in a group Sokratis believes is finely balanced. “Personally I will be very content to see our team in the last 16,” said the Borussia Dortmund defender. “From then on, as we have seen many times in the past, anything is possible.”
Sokratis’ optimism is understandable given the calibre of the coaches currently shaping his career - Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund and Fernando Santos with Greece - and his appreciation for both is evident when asked about them: “I feel lucky and happy to be able to work with two exceptional coaches.”
Greece’s No19 is hoping their influence will help him “be 100 per cent ready, both mentally and physically, to do my best and help my side.” Sokratis names the Hellenic team spirit as one of their main strengths but insists the “trademark” of the side currently in 12th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is its strong back line.
He would not be surprised if his Dortmund team-mates in the Germany squad make it into the Final, and he would happily cheer them on should they do so, on one condition: “Only if we are not there as well.”