Greece's first goal in Bloemfontein on Thursday against Nigeria was historic as their first in a FIFA World Cup, and their second was even more precious as it handed them their only points in five finals matches. The 2-1 victory was also the first come-from-behind win at South Africa 2010, and, more importantly for the 2004 European champions, it put them solidly back into Group B reckoning.
The Greeks are now level with their first match conquerors, Korea Republic, on three points with table-topping Argentina, on six, up next for them. With veteran coach Otto Rehhagel steering the ship, and with some momentum behind them, Greece are confident that results in the final group matches will go their way and allow them to sneak into the last 16.
After a match that saw Nigeria reduced to 10 men for the last hour, the Europeans expressed joy at breaking their duck, but they were keeping their feet firmly on the ground. "It is an historic and important win for Greek football and the nation," Dimitrios Salpingidis, scorer of Greece's first goal after over 400 minutes of finals football, told FIFA. "I am extremely happy to be the one to do it, but I did not think about it at the time. In the match, I was honestly just focused on teamwork and the final score. But when the match ended, I thought about how important it was."
Georgios Samaras, who was brought on by Rehhagel as a first-half substitute to up the attacking quotient, said the mood in the team's locker room was not as celebratory as one might have thought. "It is a great moment for us, but it's no time for celebration. We are happy and delighted for sure, but this is not a party. We will go back to Durban and start working on the next match. I think in the end, because we pushed ourselves really hard, that we deserved to win the game. And that's what matters."
Many of the players said that they had been stung by the opening 2-0 loss to the Koreans, and that they were determined to show a different side against the Super Eagles. Kalu Uche's opener in the 16th minute was undoubtedly a shock, but did not knock them out of their stride. "We were poised and had a good attitude from the start," said Konstantinos Katsouranis, a veteran of that famous European triumph six years ago. "Even after going behind, we wanted to show that we had strength and were tough enough to come back. And we still have the ability to stay focused and organised like we did in 2004."
Because some of the players are veterans from 2004, we have the soul of a champion in this team
The shadow of that shock triumph in Portugal was also on the mind of Alexandros Tziolis, who said that their success was still feeding the confidence of the squad, which retains five survivors from UEFA EURO 2004. "Because some of the players are veterans from 2004, we have the soul of a champion in this team. Today's match you saw a different team, and we had more passion and physicality. We knew it was do-or-die, and there was more pressure on us to come out and try to win. But we dealt with that and finally got our goals in the World Cup."
Samaras concluded that the team never considered that they might continue to struggle at the highest level. "I think the game against South Korea was one of those things where nothing went right," he said. "It was not our day, but we never got negative and we always believe in ourselves. No matter about the people that criticise, we always fight for each other and our confidence is always really high. We never got down, even after the goal. We showed what great character we have."