2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™

12 June - 13 July

2014 FIFA World Cup™

Salpingidis savouring role as Greek hero

Greece's Dimitris Salpingidis celebrates after scoring

A total of 13 goals in 71 games might be a decent enough return for an international forward, but it is hardly the kind of tally that sets the world alight. Those, however, are the figures of Dimitrios Salpingidis, and although the Greece striker's record may not be the most flattering around, he has undeniably earned himself a place in the pantheon of his country's game. Ask any group of Greece fans for words to describe the 32-year-old and the one that invariably gets aired most often is 'hero'.

Much of that can be traced back to the fact that each of Salpingidis's goals have tended to be crucial, if not historic. That was certainly true in November 2009, when Greece found themselves thick in the middle of play-off action ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. A goalless draw on home soil against Ukraine had dented Greek hopes, but Salpingidis buried the only goal of the second leg to send his side to South Africa.

"That was one of the happiest moments of my life," the forward explained to FIFA.com, with his team back in the play-offs and desperate to pip Romania to Brazil 2014. "It's not just because of the goal, but because we wanted to take part in that tournament so much. And it was a goal that the whole country celebrated in style."  

Salpingidis's strike secured Greece only their second ever finals spot, after they lost all three games without finding the net at USA 1994. That, of course, was in an era before Salpingidis, and the man with the Midas touch would soon have his say on South African soil – though not before he played a cameo role from the bench as To Piratiko (the Pirate Ship) lost their opener to Korea Republic.

Salpingidis was given a starting role in Greece's second match against Nigeria in Bloemfontein, and he buried his country's first ever World Cup goal just before the break to level the scores at 1-1. "We went to South Africa with big ambitions and we wanted to show that Greece deserved our place among the best teams in the world," said the striker, whose side went on to win the encounter 2-1. "Although we were successful at EURO 2004, we'd often missed out on the World Cup. That goal represented a lot for me and the team."

Career highlights
Defeated by Argentina in their third group fixture, Greece's stay in South Africa did not last long, but Salpingidis had written his name in the history books. He then bolstered his burgeoning status by hitting the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Poland in Warsaw at UEFA EURO 2012, thus becoming the first Greek player to register on both the world and continental stage.

Just as significantly, when Salpingidis scores, Greece tend to do well, and his team have lost just once when the PAOK marksman has hit the target – their quarter-final defeat by Germany at EURO 2012. "I've never thought about the historical side and, to be honest, I never think about that kind of thing when I play," he said. "I just want to score all the time, every day, in every match and every training session. And if I can't do that, I want to do everything I can to help my team, whatever it takes."

I just want to score all the time, every day, in every match and every training session.

Despite his modesty, Salpingidis is still able to pick out his favourite moments from his career thus far. "Top of the list is our qualification against Ukraine," he said. "In second place, the goal against Nigeria. And in third place? I'd like it to be us qualifying against Romania."

The good news on that front is that Greece are superbly placed to reach Brazil in Tuesday's decider after winning the first leg 3-1 in Piraeus on Friday. Not that they had everything their own way in the match. Romania conjured a goal halfway through the first period to make it 1-1 and put themselves on top in the tie, but hazard a guess who made it 2-1 to get the hosts back up and running?

Buoyed by their two-goal cushion, To Piratiko are now in a strong position to claim a finals berth alongside Bosnia-Herzegovina, the team who edged them to top spot in their section during the group phase. "We did our best and finished second, but on goal difference rather than the number of points we picked up," noted Salpingidis. "Once again, we showed that for the last few years Greece have been a difficult side to beat, with a will to win and to fight as hard as we can."

Warrior spirit
The former Panathinaikos man – who won a league and cup double with the Athens club in 2010 – perhaps embodies that warrior spirit more than anyone else. In fact, he almost used his combative qualities to more literal effect before feeling the lure of football. "I must have been nine or ten when I realised I wanted to become a footballer," he recalled. "Until then, I'd wanted to be a wrestler."

Given his background, however, perhaps it was always inevitable that the youngster would eventually be drawn to the beautiful game. "I come from Thessaloniki, and a part of the town where everyone is a fan of PAOK," the current Aspromavroi (Black and Whites) captain explained.

"I first played for the club in the 1990s and I feel very good there. My whole family and my childhood friends live in the town and I'm playing football for a team with big ambitions. PAOK are one of a select group of clubs with the most fanatical supporters in Europe. Throughout the whole of the north of Greece, people live for the team alone and nothing else."

The mood in the region must therefore be pretty positive at the moment, given PAOK's excellent start to the 2013/14 campaign. Salpingidis and Co lie second in the standings behind Olympiakos but enjoy a healthy advantage over Panathinaikos and, above all, relegation-threatened local rivals Aris Saloniki.

The club's skipper clearly has much to be pleased about, particularly as he feels no misgivings about having never taken his talents abroad, despite recurrent interest from Premier League sides. "I never made it a personal goal to play overseas," said the man voted Greek player of the year in 2008 and 2009, and who topped the league scoring charts in 2006.

"I would gladly have done it, but only for a big European team, not to leave just for the sake of it. So I have no regrets. My goals are the same as my club's and my national team's: I just want to play in the World Cup again and win a title with PAOK."

With a clear idea of his targets and the hunger to pursue his dreams, Salpingidis's career continues to play out along the lines of the classic hero's journey – and the whole of Greece will be cheering him on from the sidelines on Tuesday.

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