An unassuming legend who encapsulates the spirit of the world cup

Angelos Charisteas? When you hear that name your initial reaction is that you’ve heard of him but you’re not sure why. There is nothing much about his current surroundings that would make his name immediately stand out in the world of football. As a matter of fact he is currently a free agent having been released at the end of the 2012-13 season by Saudi club Al Nassr with a record of one goal in nine games. Inauspicious circumstances indeed.

And yet you’ve still heard of him and there is a perfectly good reason why. Ten years ago next month, he scored the winning goal for Greece in the final of the 2004 European Championships in Benfica’s Estadio da Luz. It was his third goal of the tournament and capped a remarkable victory for the Greeks against all the odds.

A quick sortie of Charisteas’ club career does not exactly make for stellar reading. As well as brief and moderately successful spells for Werder Bremen, Ajax and Feyenoord there are lengthy spells spent in the lower divisions of the Greek and German leagues. Had his career been in England we might have kindly referred to him as a journeyman.

Despite all this, his name will be forever synonymous with the spirit of Euro 2004. The have a go hero in a team of have a go heroes who wrote his name into tournament football legend.

You may be wondering why I am dissecting Charisteas’ career when he is not involved in this world cup. The simple reason is that on Saturday night this wonderful tournament produced a moment of history from a player who, like Charisteas does not necessarily demand the plaudits his achievements in tournament football deserve. With his first touch of this campaign, Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored his fifteenth World Cup finals goal in his fourth tournament and in doing so equalled the record of the Brazilian legend Ronaldo. The goal was also Klose’s 70th in 133 internationals for his country, a German record that puts him two ahead of the great Gerd Muller. However, here’s the million dollar question. Which club does Klose play for?

The answer is Lazio but you are unlikely to have known that unless you had followed Klose’s career in detail. Like Charisteas, his feats in international football are legendary but his club career is no more than fair to middling. Both men played for Werder Bremen and the German outfit are the only club for which Klose has passed the milestone of fifty league goals.

Despite his modest club career, Klose is a bona fide world cup legend. He is in many ways, the perfect encapsulation of what the world cup should be about; a festival of football where everyone can make a name for themselves. Think Roger Milla in 1990 or Geoff Hurst in 1966. It is not always the blue chip player who makes a tournament his own. Hurst of course was a late replacement to the England squad for the injured Jimmy Greaves.

That is not to say that Klose (or indeed Milla and Hurst) is merely an honest tryer. Far from it he is in fact a clinical poacher with a goalscoring instinct to rival the very best. The fact that his club career is not littered with honours is one of the modern game’s great mysteries.

Ronaldo’s fifteen goals arrived in the form of four in France ’98, three in Germany ’06 and a massive eight in the successful 2002 campaign which included two in the final against Klose’s Germany. Klose’s goals are spread more evenly. Five in 2002 (all headers), five more on home soil in 2006, four in South Africa and the one to equalise against Ghana on Saturday night. Ronaldo’s goal’s came in nineteen matches compared to Klose’s twenty although Klose has a slightly better minutes per goal ratio with 101 to the Brazilian’s 108. Ronaldo’s goals were undoubtedly more significant but there is little to separate them in terms of bare statistical analysis.

Klose is not a player who naturally bathes in the limelight. He is refreshingly removed from the egotistical nature of the modern footballer. Twice in his career he has been the recipient of fair play awards firstly for refusing the referee’s award of a penalty in a German league match that he believed was awarded incorrectly, and secondly for admitting immediately to using his hand to score a goal in a Serie A encounter. Whilst the attention going into this tournament has been on whether the global superstars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney can finally make an impact on a world cup, Klose has consistently outperformed them all on the very biggest stage. He is the spirit of the world cup and embodies everything that tournament football should represent; joy for our great game. At 36 years of age, Klose still greets world cup goals with the same front flip celebration that ushered in his first world cup goals in Japan twelve years ago. Whisper it quietly, he’s a legend.

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Group C Preview, Columbia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan

Group C comprising of Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan is a very geographically diverse group, representing 4 totally different regions. Despite the presence of several talented players, the group lacks World Cup pedigree: None of the teams has made a quarter-final till date. Each team has at least one major weakness, some of which cancel each other out – which means all six fixtures are likely to be good fun.

Group C Schedule
S.No. Date Time Teams City Stadium
1 14/6 17:00 Colombia vs Greece Belo Horizonte Estadio Mineirao
2 15/6 02:00 Ivory Coast vs Japan Recife Arena Pernambuco
3 19/6 17:00 Colombia v Ivory Coast Brasilia Estadio Nacional
4 20/6 23:00 Japan v Greece Natal Arena das Dunas
5 25/6 21:00 Japan v Colombia Cuiaba Arena Pantanal
6 25/6 21:00 Greece v Ivory Coast Fortaleza Estadio Castelao

Locations

Cuiaba, Recife, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Natal

Temperature could be a major factor in Brazil. At the Confederations Cup last year, the intense summer heat was a huge problem for teams from outside South America, with 8 Italian players requesting a half-time substitution against Brazil. That naturally hands Colombia an added weapon. In addition to being the strongest team in Group C, they have already used the weather to their advantage in qualifying, scheduling all their home matches at mid-afternoon in hot Barranquilla.

As you can see, three of the venues (Fortaleza, Recife or Natal) are coastal cities, usually warmer and more humid than cities away from the coast. Curiously, all three of Colombia’s venues are in the hinterland (Cuiaba, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte), where the peak daily temperatures are significantly lowerIt’s risky to rely excessively on these things, but the cooler weather might level the playing field for their opponents.

 Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha National Stadium is the most expensive of the lot, and can seat upto 73,000

Team Guide

Colombia

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Colombia have risen from the ‘dark horse’ tag to become one of the main contenders to at least progress to the next round. Boasting a Fifa ranking of fourth at the start of 2014 and carrying one of the most expensive European footballers in James Rodriguez, they are in the competition to prove a point, as they will be making their first appearance in the World Cup after 16 years.

Their qualification at this year’s World Cup was no less than a roller-coaster ride. They won nine of their 16 matches to earn the second spot in South America, which included a 4-0 win against Uruguay, who had come into the game on the back of a two-year unbeaten run. But they had to wait till the last game to confirm qualification due to a few underwhelming performances.

Their coach, Jose Pekerman, brings with him a variety of different formations, but to varying degrees of success, which makes it very unclear as to how they will line up at the World Cup.

Key Player – James Rodríguez

FIFA Ranking : 8

For more information, read Columbia Team Preview.

Japan

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Japan didn’t even have a professional domestic league till 1993; now they’re taking part in their 5th consecutive World Cup, having hosted the 2002 edition. It’s been a meteoric rise fuelled by money, foreign know-how and work ethic. While a technically brilliant side, Japan are yet to figure out the knockout stages.

Japan became the first team to come through qualifications for the 2014 World Cup with a hope to make it further than their previous best of second round. With 10 points from six games, Japan finished second in the third round of the Asian qualification with Uzbekistan on top. In the final group round of the qualifiers, Japan cruised to the top spot, five points adrift of Australia to book a fifth straight World Cup berth.

Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni has guided the nation to the 2011 Asian Cup glory which helped them secure a place in the 2013 Confederations Cup where Japan were thrashed badly by Brazil, Italy and Mexico.However, they seem to have found good form as a draw against the Netherlands and a victory over Belgium in late 2013 helped them prove their mettle.

Key Player – Keisuke Honda

FIFA Ranking : 46

For more information, read Japan Team Preview.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast World Cup team

As the highest-ranked African nation, Ivory Coast will arrive for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with some unfinished business. They suffered first-round defeats to Argentina and Netherlands in their opening matches in the 2006 World Cup, their debut appearance, while 2010 again saw them earning defeat when they drew against a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal, while suffering a 3-1 defeat against Brazil. This time around, the chances of making it to the second round are higher for the African giants.

They will pin their hopes on Didier Drogba, former Chelsea superstar and the captain for this year’s World Cup, while Manchester City’s in-form Yaya Toure will also be ready to achieve victories for his country.

One of only two nations to finish unbeaten in African qualifying (the other being Nigeria). They overcame Senegal 5-3 on aggregate in the play-offs. Lille man Salomon Kalou was top scorer with 5 goals.

Key Player – Yaya Toure

FIFA Ranking : 23

For more information, read Ivory Coast Preview.

Greece

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Greece will enter the 2014 World Cup with a lot of confidence, even though they had to go through the playoffs to qualify. Greece have a very good record of making it to the major tournaments after their surprise win at the European Championship a decade ago in 2004. They made it to the World Cup thrice out of the last four tournaments but only to add to their disappointment by being knocked out in the group stages on all three occasions.

Coach Fernando Santos likes to adopt a defensive approach, but a quarter-final appearance in the Euro 2012 means his strategy has had a considerable amount of success. Under his command, Greece will try to carry their pre-World Cup confidence to render a bold approach towards the tournament itself.

Greece’s star players Giorgos Karagounis (captain) and Kostas Kastsounaras, who holds the record for most caps, are again expected to deliver for the nation after appearing in all the qualifiers.

The Greeks are classic underdogs – lacking any real stars, but with fantastic team spirit. They will need it in spades if they are to get a whiff of the knockouts in Brazil.

Key Player – Kostas Mitroglou

FIFA Ranking : 12

For more information, read Greece Team Preview.

Key Fixture

Colombia vs Ivory Coast on 19th June. These two are the strongest sides on paper, and the difference in style – a typically Latin American, free-flowing side against a physically strong African side – should make this an interesting contest..

Observations

Even without Radamel Falcao, Colombia have the sheer quality to force their way into the knockouts. But their defence lacks pace or ability, and this could be exploited by the likes of Drogba and Yaya Toure.

Ivory Coast’s main problem is age – at 29, Kalou is the youngest survivor from the golden generation. Yaya Toure has had a great season with City, but a knee injury could keep him out of their opening fixtures, and that could prove vital if Drogba – in the twilight of his career – fails to deliver.

Greece are the worst side technically and creatively, while Japan are perhaps the best on both counts. If results were determined by visual appeal alone, both would hold very different FIFA rankings! Japan lost thrice at last summer’s Confederations Cup and lack a good striker, which could be their undoing against packed defences like Greece. While Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda flourished as central attackers, both have struggled out wide since joining Manchester United and AC Milan respectively. This tournament provides a good chance for them to remind the world of their abilities.

Predictions

Groups of Death are passe. Group C could be the first ever Group of Underdogs: 4 teams with a lot to prove, but none good enough to last the distance. The relative lack of World Cup experience makes predictions difficult, though. Nevertheless, here’s my attempt. If you disagree with the order suggested – you can see the comments section below, and you know what to do.

Predicted Leaderboard
Team   Points
Colombia 7
Ivory Coast 4
Greece 3
Japan 2

 

Greece Team Preview

The Players

Orestis Karnezis goalkeeper, Granada

Giannis Maniatis defender, Olympiakos

Giorgos Tzavellas defender, Paok

Kostas Manolas defender, Olympiakos

Vangelis Moras defender, Verona

Alexandros Tziolis midfielder, Kayserispor

Giorgos Samaras forward, Celtic

Panagiotis Kone midfielder, Bologna

Kostas Mitroglou forward, Fulham

10 Giorgos Karagounis midfielder, (captain) Fulham

11 Loukas Vyntra defender, Levante

12 Panagiotis Glykos goalkeeper, Paok

13 Stefanos Kapino goalkeeper, Panathinaikos

14 Dimitris Salpingidis forward, Paok

15 Vasilis Torosidis defender, Roma

16 Lazaros Christodoulopoulos midfielder, Bologna

17 Theofanis Gekas forward, Konyaspor

18 Giannis Fetfatzidis midfielder, Genoa

19 Sokratis Papastathopoulos defender, Borussia Dortmund

20 José Holebas defender, Olympiakos

21 Kostas Katsouranis midfielder, Paok

22 Andreas Samaris midfielder, Olympiakos

23 Panagiotis Tachtsidis midfielder, Torino

Star man

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Kostas Mitroglou, The striker, who has played 153 minutes of football since moving to London in January, was in exceptional form during the play-off against Romania, scoring three times over the two legs.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Former Portsmouth striker Theofanis Gekas has fallen out with countless managers and retired from international football in 2010 citing “special circumstances within the team”. He returned to the squad a year later.

The coach

Fernando Santos had the somewhat unenviable task of taking over from Otto Rehhagel who had led Greece to triumph at Euro 2004, but the Portuguese has managed to make even more of an art form out of the 1-0 win. Five of their 10 qualifiers were won by this scoreline.

Grudge match

Old rivals Turkey haven’t qualified, and even older rivals, the Trojans, are yet to make their long-awaited comeback, which means that Greece are going to have to be inventive in their search for some needle. They did make Cristiano Ronaldo cry when they beat Portugal in the final of Euro 2004, so that’s a start, while much of the buildup to their quarter-final against Germany at Euro 2012 was given over to Clever People talking about the economy. Greece will hope not to get merked by Merkel again.

Holed up

The general manager of the Radisson in Aracaju said it was “an honour and a challenge” for his hotel to welcome the Greeks, requiring “only a few adaptations” for which they were “almost 100% prepared”. The players will train at the Lourival Baptista Stadium, which is due to be fully completed in August. “They only wanted the pitch, the changing rooms and the floodlights to be ready,” said the local tourism minister, Elber Batalha. The local airport is currently being renovated, a process scheduled to end in 2015. Still, there’s a nice beach.

How they qualified
Beat Romania 4-2 on aggregate in the play-off having been edged off top spot in Group G on goal difference by Bosnia. Goal difference is not their strong point: their 25 points in 10 qualifying games came despite only scoring 12 goals.

World Cup high
USA ‘94. Reached the World Cup finals for the very first time in their history.

World Cup low
USA ‘94. Were tonked in each of their opening games at USA ’94, firstly when a doped-up Maradona inspired Argentina to a 4-0 win. They then crashed to Bulgaria by the same score before a 2-0 defeat to Nigeria in the final match completed the American nightmare.

Familiar faces
Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham).

Title odds: 200/1

The stereotype is …
Ruthless efficiency. As demonstrated by the 2.08 points they gained for every goal scored during qualification. Strong at set-pieces, and with an often chaotic, yet extremely effective approach to defending.

The reality is …
Eh, see above. To their lethal set-piece delivery they have managed to add the chipped ball over the top for Mitroglou to run onto. And that’s about that.

What they’re known for
Smashing plates 8 per cent
Debt 42 per cent
Protesting 10 per cent
Philosophy 24 per cent
Other really old things 16 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
I recognise you from the edge sword terrible, I know in the face violence with which measures the earth.

How long is it?
The full version has 158 verses. Thankfully we can expect a radio friendly two minutes or so.

How to dress like their fans

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Togas, centurion helmets, sandals and shields are the order of the day. Greece fans won’t be complaining about the heat.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Scored one goal every 75 minutes during their qualifying group. Conceded a goal every 225 minutes during their qualifying group. This is their third time in the World Cup – they have only won one game.