Greece captain Georgios Karagounis is a national hero. The 36-year-old veteran is a surviving member of the side crowned shock European champions in 2004, and he is now gearing up to take part in his second FIFA World Cup™.
Capped 135 times for his country, the midfielder took time out to talk to FIFA.com about the indomitable esprit de corps in the camp, what he expects at these world finals, and why he thinks anyone who crosses Greece does so at their own peril.
FIFA: The 2014 World Cup is upon us, and it will be your second time at the world showpiece. How are you feeling?
Georgios Karagounis: I feel ready. If you’ve experienced the World Cup before you know, more or less, how things go. Great tournaments like this do not change a lot. You are guaranteed only three games and you have to stay very grounded and focused because mistakes are not allowed.
Speaking as the team captain, how important is your previous experience at South Africa 2010 where you went out in the group stages?
Having some experience at this level can be an advantage, but there are a lot more factors to consider, like how you feel on the day of a game, what time the game is played. You must have made the right preparations for the game. You need to be in good shape physically, psychologically and mentally. These are big games and this is a big tournament, so all factors need to be in order.
What are Greece’s goals here in Brazil?
Our main goal is to make it to the knockout rounds, which is something we have never done before. In order to do this, we have to take each game as it comes. The most important game for us is against Colombia. This is our first game and they are a dangerous team.
Despite being crowned European champions just ten years ago, Greece doesn’t often get mentioned along with the big names of the game. Does this bother you?
Not really. Sometimes it’s good because whether or not they praise or respect you, the truth is on the pitch. For the last ten years, this is where we have answered our critics. I think whoever doesn’t respect us will pay for it. It’s best not to cross us. We know who we are and what we can do. If we stay together as a team, we can achieve big things.
Talk a little bit about the togetherness, the sense of brotherhood, in the team.
We are a close-knit bunch. We’ve been together for many years now and we operate as a collective unit. This is very important. We have a good time together when we travel and we work together as a team. This is the kind of thing that shows on the field. We enjoy our successes and we rue our difficulties as one. We live and breathe as a team and we feel intense emotions.
What does coach Fernando Santos bring to the team? It must be hard to take over from a legend like Otto Rehhagel.
He’s been our coach for four years now. We know him and he knows us, so there are no surprises. Under him, we reached the quarter-final of the EURO in 2012 and that was a great achievement, to be one of the best eight teams in Europe. Now we are here at the World Cup again under his guidance. He has built on the lessons of our previous coach and with his knowledge of the team and our knowledge of his philosophy, I am hopeful we will get to the second round.