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    Greece

    Fulham striker Konstantinos Mitroglou has been included in Greece's provisional 29-man 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ squad despite his faltering form with the Cottagers throughout 2014.

    The 26-year-old was brought to Craven Cottage from Olympiacos for £11m in January, but he played just 120 minutes without finding the net as Fulham were relegated from the English Premier League. However, Greece head coach Fernando Santos has still found room in his squad for Mitroglou, who will be hoping to make the final 23-man list of players which has to be submitted by 2 June.

    Mitroglou's Fulham team-mate Giorgos Karagounis, Greece captain and their most-capped player of all time with 132 appearances, is included despite featuring sporadically for the west London side this season.

    Celtic striker Georgios Samaras, who won the Scottish Premiership with the Glasgow side this season, has also been included. Greece play Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire and Japan in Group C.

    Greece squad

    Goalkeepers:
    Alexandros Tzorvas (Apollon Smyrnis), Michalis Sifakis (Atromitos), Orestis Karnezis (Granada), Panaglotis Glykos (PAOK), Stefanos Kapino (Panathinaikos)

    Defenders:
    Avraam Papadopoulos, Dimitris Siovas, Kostas Manolas, Giannis Maniatis, Jose Holebas (all Olympiakos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Giorgios Tzavellas (PAOK), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Vasilis Torosidis (Roma)

    Midfielders:
    Alexandros Tziolis (Kayserispor), Andreas Samaris (Olympiakos), Kostas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Torino), Sotiris Ninis (PAOK), Ioannis Fetfatzidis (Genoa), Kostas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna) Panagiotis Kone (Bologna)

    Forwards:
    Dimitris Papadopoulos (Atromitos), Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Giorgios Samaras (Celtic), Konstantinos Mitroglou (Fulham), Theofanis Gekas (Konyaspor)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Mitroglou named in final Greece squad

    Konstantinos Mitroglou has kept his FIFA World Cup™ place after Greece cut their provisional 30-man squad to 23. The £11m striker has failed to fire since joining Fulham in January but scored three times over the two legs of the World Cup qualifying play-off against Romania.

    Three of the seven strikers from the initial selection were cut, with Dimitris Papadopoulos, Nikos Karelis and Stefano Athanasiadis the men to miss out. Lingering injury problems rule out Olympiacos' Avraam Papadopoulos while fellow defender Nikolaos Karabelas, goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas and Kaiserslautern midfielder Kostas Fortounis were also omitted by coach Fernando Santos, who will step down after the tournament.

    Greece squad
    Goalkeepers: Orestis Karnezis (Granada), Panagiotis Glykos (PAOK), Stefanos Kapino (Panathinaikos).
    Defenders: Kostas Manolas, Giannis Maniatis, Jose Holebas (all Olympiacos), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Giorgios Tzavellas (PAOK), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Vasilis Torosidis (Roma), Vangelis Moras (Verona).
    Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (Kayserispor), Andreas Samaris (Olympiacos), Kostas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Torino), Ioannis Fetfatzidis (Genoa), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna) Panagiotis Kone (Bologna).
    Forwards: Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Giorgios Samaras (Celtic), Kostas Mitroglou (Fulham), Theofanis Gekas (Konyaspor).

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 5 June at 12:00 CET.

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    Greece, Nigeria play out goalless stalemate

    Greece and Nigeria battled to a scoreless draw on Tuesday in an international friendly match that served as a 2014 FIFA World Cup™ warm-up for both teams.

    Greece had their fair share of chances, but couldn't get past Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who made a superb double save on Georgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis in the 8rd minute.

    Greece had the majority of the opportunities in the first half as well, with Lazaros Christodoulopoulos firing a 30-yard rocket that just went high in the 21st minute. Ioannis Fetfatzidis was turned away in the 28th minute by Enyeama.

    Early in the second half, Nigeria picked up their attack on the strength of Chelsea attacker Victor Moses, but his runs from the left wing came to nothing. In the 90th minute, Moses belted a shot from just outside the box that went wide.

    Nigeria were coming off a 2-2 draw against Scotland in a friendly in London. The CAF Africa Cup of Nations champions will play USA in Jacksonville, Florida, in another friendly on Saturday and kick off their games in Brazil against Iran on 16 June in Curitiba. They will also face Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group F.

    Greece will play Bolivia in Harrison, New Jersey, on Friday before heading for their base camp in Brazil at Aracaju.

    Greece have never qualified for the knockout stages in their previous appearances at the finals but will fancy their chances as they have been drawn in Group C with Colombia, who will be without talismanic striker Radamel Falcao, Japan and the talented but ageing Côte d'Ivoire. Greece open their campaign against Colombia on 14 June in Belo Horizonte.

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    Karagounis: The truth is on the pitch

    Greece captain Georgios Karagounis is a national hero. The 36-year-old veteran is a surviving member of the side crowned shock European champions in 2004, and he is now gearing up to take part in his second FIFA World Cup™. Capped 135 times for his country, the midfielder took time out to talk to FIFA.com about the indomitable esprit de corps in the camp, what he expects at these world finals, and why he thinks anyone who crosses Greece does so at their own peril.

    FIFA: The 2014 World Cup is upon us, and it will be your second time at the world showpiece. How are you feeling?
    Georgios Karagounis: I feel ready. If you’ve experienced the World Cup before you know, more or less, how things go. Great tournaments like this do not change a lot. You are guaranteed only three games and you have to stay very grounded and focused because mistakes are not allowed.

    Speaking as the team captain, how important is your previous experience at South Africa 2010 where you went out in the group stages?
    Having some experience at this level can be an advantage, but there are a lot more factors to consider, like how you feel on the day of a game, what time the game is played. You must have made the right preparations for the game. You need to be in good shape physically, psychologically and mentally. These are big games and this is a big tournament, so all factors need to be in order.

    What are Greece’s goals here in Brazil?
    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.

    Despite being crowned European champions just ten years ago, Greece doesn’t often get mentioned along with the big names of the game. Does this bother you?
    Not really. Sometimes it’s good because whether or not they praise or respect you, the truth is on the pitch. For the last ten years, this is where we have answered our critics. I think whoever doesn’t respect us will pay for it. It’s best not to cross us. We know who we are and what we can do. If we stay together as a team, we can achieve big things.

    Talk a little bit about the togetherness, the sense of brotherhood, in the team.
    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.

    What does coach Fernando Santos bring to the team? It must be hard to take over from a legend like Otto Rehhagel.
    He’s been our coach for four years now. We know him and he knows us, so there are no surprises. Under him, we reached the quarter-final of the EURO in 2012 and that was a great achievement, to be one of the best eight teams in Europe. Now we are here at the World Cup again under his guidance. He has built on the lessons of our previous coach and with his knowledge of the team and our knowledge of his philosophy, I am hopeful we will get to the second round.

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    Confident Sokratis warns of Greece threat

    Anyone unsure of Greece’s potential to spring a surprise at a major international tournament need only think back to UEFA EURO 2004 when the team broke Portuguese hearts by beating the hosts in the final. And despite failing to make it beyond the group stage at their two FIFA World Cup™ outings to date, in 1994 and 2010, centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos refuses to believe his country go into Brazil 2014 as underdogs. “Our national team has had some big successes as well, particularly in big tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Cup,” the 26-year-old told FIFA.com. “Favourites are the teams that are in good shape.”

    The defender is a firm believer that form – rather than reputation – is the only thing that counts out on the pitch. To that end he is eager to draw on the experience gained at South Africa 2010, having been part of the side that earned Greece their first, and so far only, World Cup victory: a 2-1 triumph over Nigeria. “I have fond memories of that tournament,” said the chiselled defender, known simply as Sokratis due to his tongue-twisting surname. “It was my first time playing at a World Cup and Greece won for the first time. I was very happy with that victory.”

    'Anything is possible'
    Yet as satisfying as that was, the 47-time internationalhas set his sights somewhat higher this time around, with the target now to reach the knockout stages at the very least. To get there Greece will have to get past Colombia, Japan and Côte d’Ivoire in a group Sokratis believes is finely balanced. “Personally I will be very content to see our team in the last 16,” said the Borussia Dortmund defender. “From then on, as we have seen many times in the past, anything is possible.” Sokratis’ optimism is understandable given the calibre of the coaches currently shaping his career - Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund and Fernando Santos with Greece - and his appreciation for both is evident when asked about them: “I feel lucky and happy to be able to work with two exceptional coaches.”

    Greece’s No19 is hoping their influence will help him “be 100 per cent ready, both mentally and physically, to do my best and help my side.” Sokratis names the Hellenic team spirit as one of their main strengths but insists the “trademark” of the side currently in 12th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is its strong back line. He would not be surprised if his Dortmund team-mates in the Germany squad make it into the Final, and he would happily cheer them on should they do so, on one condition: “Only if we are not there as well.”

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    Samaras: Positive philosophy won't change

    "That wasn't what people expected."

    Georgios Samaras is right. Greece might have been underdogs for their Group C opener against Colombia, but few expected them to lose the way they did. If the South Americans were to triumph, the assumption was that it would be by monopolising possession - Jose Pekerman's stated pre-match aim - and by grinding down their supposedly dour, defensive opponents. The reality was very different. Although the points went to Los Cafateros, the stats showed that it was Greece who dominated the ball, and that they used it for as many efforts on goal as their South American opponents. And while a 3-0 defeat proved predictably tough to stomach, Samaras was comforted by the knowledge that his team had contributed to another enthralling FIFA World Cup™ encounter.

    "We have more to give at this tournament, but I think we showed something today," he told FIFA.com. "It was a strange game. For the first five or six minutes, we didn't seem to be 100 per cent in it and we conceded a bad goal. But after that, we had a lot of possession, a lot of pressure, and created some quite good chances. But, look, that's football. Colombia didn't have any more chances than we did but they scored three goals and, whether or not the result is fair, we have to face up to it. "I know what everyone expected of Greece though: that we would have 11 men behind the ball, defend, defend, defend and give everything to keep a clean sheet. But I think what they saw was a team that likes to attack, that moves the ball really well, and that tries always to create chances. We went out to win against Colombia, and that philosophy will not change. We just hope it brings a better result for us because Japan is now a must, must-win game for us.

    "All we can do between now and then is keep positive, keep going and continue to play the same kind of football. We created chances against Colombia and that's something we can't forget. On another day, it could have been us winning, and that's something we need to take into this massive match." In describing the meeting with Japan as a "must, must-win", Samaras is not over-stressing the point. Statisticians may protest that Greece could draw or even lose and still go on to qualify but, realistically, a 3-0 defeat has left them needing a big result to kick-start their campaign. Not that the Asian champions - themselves unfortunate to lose to Côte d'Ivoire - will be an easy team to turn over.

    "They're a good team, for sure," said Samaras. "We already know their players as individuals, and between now and kick-off we'll look at them closely as a unit. We want to see where their strengths are but also where they are weaker; where they leave open spaces that we can exploit and create chances." As well as playing for Greece's World Cup future, Samaras is also playing for his own. After all, having just ended his long association with Celtic, who declined to offer him a new contract, the 29-year-old has no idea where he will be playing his football next season. Nonetheless, he claims to be relaxed about a situation that, for the moment, is well below lifting Greece off the foot of Group C in his list of priorities.

    "It's no problem," he said of his uncertain future. "I'm 100 per cent focused on the national team and, when the World Cup is finished, I'll see what my options are and where my career will go. The only strange feeling, to be honest, is not being a Celtic player. I had seven great seasons in Glasgow and I grew up there, both as a person and as a player. But in the end a decision, which I didn't want, was taken by other people. Now I will look for something new, but only after this tournament is finished. "This is enough for me just now. The World Cup is the World Cup and, whether it is in Africa, South America, Asia or Europe, it's the greatest thing you can do with your national team. Days like today hurt, but I'm very, very happy to be here."

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    Kone: It’s all in the mind

    With a sea of yellow shirts in the crowd, a deafeningly loud national anthem singalong and a fervent atmosphere that reached fever pitch, you could be excused for thinking Greece were facing the hosts in their opening game. However, it was not Brazil but Colombia that Panagiotis Kone’s Greece squared up to, and were defeated by, in their first match at this FIFA World Cup™.

    "I want to to tell you that we were prepared," Kone said in an exclusive chat with FIFA. "We knew what the atmosphere would be like during the match against Colombia. The difference between the two sides was very small. We were aware of the presence of Colombia's fans, but I don't think that it was an issue for us."

    The 2013 FIFA Puskàs Award nominee had three shots on goal against Colombia, but could not replicate his spectacular effort from December 2012 as Colombia dominated in a 3-0 win. Kone knows there are lessons to be learned for their second game against Japan on Thursday.

    "The issue for us was the three or four lapses in the first match," the Bologna midfielder explained. “We certainly have to fix this in order to have a chance of getting a good result in the game against Japan. Beyond that, as I said before, we work hard on the psychological side of things with our coach and amongst ourselves. We will try to enjoy the game and to go on to the pitch knowing that we are in a World Cup group stage and that it is a dream for all of us to take part in this global celebration."

    Greece’s No8 also revealed how coach Fernando Santos and his staff were preparing the side for their second game against Japan, and the difference of life at a major tournament compared to domestic football.

    "We have very good coaching staff and they do their jobs very well," Kone said. "We all know that the players taking part in this World Cup are coming off the back of very hard domestic seasons. This makes our coach's life more difficult.

    "We cannot work on physical preparation as we do with our club teams during the season. Instead, as we are gathered here in a global tournament, we put more work into looking at the way we communicate and on every player's psychological state."

    Of the European sides that reached Brazil, Greece scored the least goals in qualifying (12), but Kone concluded that they do not have major problems in front of goal.

    "I don't believe that it is a matter of scoring," he said. "It's not that I don't think that we can score, because we created enough chances to do so. It would be a problem if we didn't create goal-scoring opportunities. As we build plays, I believe that the goals will come. We simply have to be more concentrated, more convincing. If we do all of that, I think that we'll get a good result in the next match against Japan."

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    Samaras proud to put Greece through

    Georgios Samaras has spoken of his pride after scoring the dramatic late penalty that sent Greece into the last 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. The former Celtic striker coolly converted from the spot in injury time in Fortaleza to hand his side a 2-1 win over Côte d'Ivoire and second place in Group C. The Africans had looked like going through to the knockout stage after Swansea's Wilfried Bony cancelled out an Andreas Samaris strike, but Greece - who hit the woodwork three times - earned late reward for a positive display.

    Samaras, released by Celtic at the end of last season, was tripped by Giovanni Sio in the area in the closing moments and got up to apply the finishing touch. Samaras, whose goal was his first at international level for two years, told BBC Sport: "I think we controlled the game most of the time. I don't think Ivory Coast created a lot of chances. From our side I think we scored a goal, hit the post three times and at the end we scored a goal. "We tried the last 15-20 minutes to win because we knew if we won we would be in the next round. We gave everything we had and in the end the gods and the luck were on our side. "We are really proud of our achievement. I am really proud of the result and our team. I hope we gave a smile back to the people in our country."

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    All in a day's work for nerveless Samaras

    His eyes fixed on the ball as it lay on the penalty spot, Georgios Samaras took four steps back and contemplated the task that awaited him, with 60,000 fans watching in the stadium and millions more back home in Greece, praying for him to slot the ball home and secure a place for his side in the Round of 16. Only seconds remained of the group match with Côte d’Ivoire, with the score tied at 1-1 and the Greeks needing a win to advance to the knockout rounds of the FIFA World Cup™ for the very first time. While some would have buckled under the pressure, there was no question of Samaras coming up short. Picking his spot to perfection, the Celtic man stepped up and stroked the ball into the bottom corner to take his team into the last 16 and send a nation wild with joy.

    Nerves of steel
    The ice-cool Samaras made it look like it was all in day’s work, which is exactly how he approached it, as he explained in an exclusive chat with FIFA.com. “What did I feel at that moment in time? Nothing at all,” he said. “I just took the ball and placed it on the spot – me against the keeper. My mind was clear. I kept my focus and just tried to put it in the back of the net. I’ve done it thousands of times in training and a few times in matches. If you think about it, it makes no difference if there’s one person watching you at your club or thousands in a stadium.”

    Samaras’ remarkable coolness and composure in converting the late penalty was reflected in his voice and his eyes as he spoke. Describing what was going through his head in the moments leading up to his match-winning kick, he said: “I knew exactly where I was going to put it before I started my run-up. I was so clear in my mind about it. All I had to do was just put it all into practice.” The 29-year-old front man’s iron will was matched by that of his team-mates, who never doubted their chances of going through, even when the scoreline and the clock was against them.

    “We never stop believing and we fight till the very last second,” explained the Greek hero. “As we all know, lots of games are decided in the final seconds, and not just any old games either. It’s happened in some massive matches, with two goals sometimes being scored in the closing seconds. In football you have to keep on trying to make things happen until the referee blows the final whistle.”

    A turning point
    The result was Greece’s biggest since they defied the odds to win UEFA EURO 2004. Ever since that landmark achievement the Greeks have had a reputation for trying to stop goals rather than score them. As Samaras pointed out, however, it is a reputation that the current side are anxious to shake off. “I don’t think we’ve been defensive at all at this World Cup,” he said. “We lost our first game 3-0 but we tried to attack, and when we played Japan we had no alternative but to defend because we had a man sent off. Even then, we tried to hit on the break when we could. “I felt that we pretty much controlled the game today. Our defence did a great job and we scored at the right times. To be honest we should have killed the game off when it was 1-0, but we hit the woodwork three times.”

    Looking forward to the Round-of-16 tie with Costa Rica, a team the Greeks have never played before, Samaras said Greece already have a fair idea of what to expect: “We know some of the Costa Rica players – the ones who play in Europe. We also watched their matches against Uruguay and Italy. Now we need to study them as a team, especially their strengths and weaknesses. We have to be competitive.”

    Enjoying a lighter moment at the end of a night of high emotion, Samaras touched on his likeness to Tico star Bryan Ruiz, even if in his opinion, there is one fundamental difference between the two. “He doesn’t have a beard and I do,” he said with a smile. “He doesn’t have time to grow one now and I’m not going to shave mine off, so there’s no danger of anyone getting us mixed up. Joking aside, he’s an excellent player with a great career in Dutch football. We’re going to be taking him and his team very seriously and we’ll try to beat them.”

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    Santos: No taking Costa Rica lightly

    Greece will not take the challenge of Costa Rica lightly when they meet in the second round of the FIFA World Cup™ finals in Recife on Sunday, said coach Fernando Santos after he guided the Greeks to their first ever appearance in the knockout stages. The 59-year-old Portuguese, who has been at the helm since 2010, said Costa Rica topping what he termed the 'group of death', which saw them beat both Uruguay and Italy and draw with England, meant they were a force to be reckoned with.

    Greece's progress by contrast was not nearly as smooth or impressive with just a penalty in time added on IN the second-half seeing them beat Côte d'Ivoire 2-1 and qualify at the Africans' expense. However, that could not dilute the joy of Santos and his gritty group of players who yet again had defied the critics in going further than they had been expected to. "I am delighted first of all that we bring joy to the Greek people," said Santos. "We have time to think about the match with Costa Rica. We will go back to our base, think about it and study our opponents. We have to pay a lot of attention to this game, they came out top in the 'Group of Death'. As a result we cannot allow ourself to underestimate them."

    The match comes the day before Santos's contract runs out and the trained electrical engineer has no intention of having it renewed come what may, although as he joked before the tournament they may have to extend it by a few days as the quarter-finals fall after it. Santos, who had extensive experience as a club coach in Greece before replacing the UEFA Euro 2004 winning handler Otto Rehhagel in 2010, is not so amused by the continuing belief that Greece only know how to defend and hit people with the odd goal. "I can but laugh as it is a joke. In football one attacks and one defends. We know how to defend well and we are very good on the counter-attack."

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