|Colombia’s David Ospina during a practice session, in Belo Horizonte, on Friday. (Reuters)
Belo Horizonte: 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 am hopeful we will win this game. This first game is extremely important.”
Greece captain Georgios Karagounis also shares the same view. “Our main goal is to make it to the knockout rounds, which is something we have never done before. In order to do this, we have to take each game as it comes. The most important game for us is against Colombia. This is our first game and they are a dangerous team.”
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.”
Karagounis emphasised that they need to fire in unison.
“We are a close-knit bunch. We’ve been together for many years now and we operate as a collective unit. This is very important. We have a good time together when we travel and we work together as a team. This is the kind of thing that shows on the field.
“We enjoy our successes and we rue our difficulties as one. We live and breathe as a team and we feel intense emotions.”
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.” That possession game includes attacking full-backs and the ability to launch rapid counter-attacks.