I have supported the Greeks since Euro 2004, where they played out the true underdog story infinitely better than depicted in any clichéd American sports movie. Epitomising true team-spirit and never-say-die attitude despite their oft-limited means, they have continued to often defy the odds. They had progressed from their Euro 2012 groups when no one had given them a prayer against the Russians. Now here in Brazil, everyone was quite needlessly writing them off after the inflated 3-0 loss to the Colombians.
The Greek team are known for their efficiency
The Greeks however know how to get the job done. Despite having been very harshly, probably wrongly reduced to 10 men early against the Japanese, they still got the vital point that left qualification very much open given the circumstances. Yet they lost their key striker Mitroglou (who had scored the goals up front while the defence kept clean-sheet after clean-sheet at the back to ensure World Cup qualification) early on to injury against the Japanese.
With backs to the wall and no one giving them a prayer, was just the sort of situation these Greeks probably needed to rise to the challenge. Despite the early injury to central midfielder Kone (which meant the 2nd of their trio of central midfielders was not playing); despite the injury to their number one goalkeeper Kazernis; despite the fact that that the Arena Castelao crowd on the day constituted a large number of local Brazilians who were mostly only cheering loudly for Drogba and Yaya Toure; despite all this they still took the lead.
The opener, slotted coolly by the substitute no one counted on, had the effect of quietening the crowd, who till then had been entertaining themselves with a very pretty game of flash-the-stadium, with thousands in the public merely flashing their mobile flash-lights towards others in the crowd.
Samaras was his usual self
Samaras lead the line brilliantly in attack. He was always giving the out ball, holding up well, and working hard to press without possession. This despite him being played up front this time around, for he usually plays as a sort of inside-left coming in from the left wing to support the central striker. Co-incidentally, en route to the Castelao, I had befriended a Scottish Celtic supporter, David. Thus the ex-Celtic player Samaras was obviously one of the several topics discussed. David did mention about liking Samaras as a player, especially as he stepped up his game in the big games, and had done well for them especially in the Champions League matches. His only concern was that Samaras was sort of a moody player who probably did not turn up for certain games.
Boy, this game against Ivory Coast he sure did turn up! With a slight lapse in defence having lead to the good attacking move from the Ivorians leading to their goal, I slumped dejected into my seat next to the half a dozen Greeks sitting around me, even as the whole Arena erupted in support of Ivory Coast’s equaliser which would mean their progression. As injury time approached, a very irrational part of me even gave rise to the thought of possibly leaving the Arena early to beat the post-match chaos to get back to the hotel I had to endure at the previous game here in Fortaleza. But I quickly banished the thought, for the Greeks never give up to the end. Gekas was on the field to support Samaras’efforts, so still anything could happen.
The controversial penalty
And then the penalty was won in injury time! While the Ivorian players slumped, as the crowd gasped, the Greeks around me couldn’t keep their excitement down. I tempered my elation however, for last minute penalties are no easy treats. Ask Asamoah Gyan, for I was sat behind the goal on the occasion of his skier against Uruguay four years earlier. So this time I was only going to celebrate after the conversion.
Celebrate however I did! Samaras it was who stepped up to take it after what seemed like ages as to who would take the kick. He coolly slotted it past the keeper, and then we just went wild! Suddenly all the local Brazilians, possibly fans of local clubs Ceara and Fortaleza, who had possibly been distributed free or discounted tickets at the end to fill the stadium, were posing for photos with us celebrating Greek fans! Also did I feel sorry for the Ivorians and Drogba ? Definitely not! Not after the way Drogba had stolen the Champions league final at the death in Munich against my dear Bayern.
Anyway, the fun-night was just starting. The mighty Greeks, too often under-rated, had conquered the Castelao. “Hellas! Hellas!” was the cry of the night, as people all along the streets upon seeing the Greek fans gave a big thumbs-up, while we Greeks fans acknowledged each other in triumph en route to wherever we were going. Costa Ricans are up next in the Pre-Quarters. The fairy-tale might have just begun. Who would have thought ? Maybe the Greeks and their fans always did!Published 26 Jun 2014, 18:44 IST