By Karolos Grohmann and Gideon Long
Containing Colombia’s potent attacking game, even without injured striker Radamel Falcao, will be key to defensive-minded Greece’s attempt to upset the World Cup Group C favourites on Saturday.
The Greeks, who also play Japan and Ivory Coast in the group, have long said their first game will be the most crucial one with Colombia, who finished second in the South American qualifiers after a superb campaign, seen as the team to beat.
“We have it in our own hands to beat them,” said Greece’s versatile defender Giorgos Tzavellas. “Colombia will have to find a way to score against us and that will be very difficult and I hopeful we will win this game. This first game is extremely important.”
Greece, who 10 years ago staged a major upset by becoming European champions, have forged a reputation as a hard-working defensive team, conceding just four goals in their 10 qualifiers.
“They have a high quality attack but everyone of us is experienced. We will only play to win,” said Greece defender Kostas Manolas. “We are a good team and we will prove it on Saturday.”
Greece will need to be at their well-organised best with Colombia, despite the absence of talismanic striker Falcao for the tournament, having outstanding attacking options with Jackson Martinez or Carlos Bacca and a constantly changing system.
For 64-year-old Colombia coach Jose Pekerman any result other than victory would be a disappointment and he will be banking on his European mercenaries to deliver, with 15 of his 23 players plying their trade across the Atlantic.
“Colombia cannot simply change its playing style,” captain Mario Yepes told reporters. “Throughout the qualifiers we relied on possession of the ball and that is what makes us strong.”
Luis Suarez meanwhile looks certain to sit out Uruguay’s World Cup Group D opener against Costa Rica on Saturday but in Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan the South Americans still boast a formidable attacking partnership.
Suarez had keyhole surgery on his left knee just three weeks ago and although he appears to be recovering well, coach Oscar Tabarez is unlikely to risk him against what promises to be the weakest team in the group.
The Liverpool striker was sensational in the English Premier League last season, scoring 31 goals in 33 appearances, way more than any other player.
But although his absence is a concern for the Uruguayans, they are blessed with an abundance of attacking riches.
Cavani comes to Brazil after a successful first season at Paris St Germain and while Forlan’s star has faded somewhat since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he still has the intelligence and dead-ball expertise to unlock any defence.
He will need it because if there is one thing that Costa Rica do well it is defending.
The Ticos conceded fewer goals than any other team in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, averaging well under one goal a game to finish as runners-up to the United States.
The Central Americans will look to young Olympiakos striker Joel Campbell for goals in Saturday’s clash at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza.
He will be watched closely by a rugged and experienced Uruguayan defence led by the two Diegos – Lugano and Godin.
This will be Uruguay’s first World Cup match on Brazilian soil since their famous 2-1 victory over the hosts in the 1950 final, a result that traumatised a nation.