Greek football still on map despite crisis

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) - To an outsider, little has changed in Greek football in the last decade.

The national team has kept its instinct for a decisive late goal, has players easily overlooked, and a defense that plays with a spirit of defiance.

It’s those ingredients that helped Greece win the 2004 European Championship and made the team a regular at major tournaments since.

Greece’s national team has become a rare success story in a country struck by financial crisis that battered everything from public health to achievement in most other sports.

Greece qualified for the World Cup by way of the playoffs, eliminating Romania over two legs, but only missed direct qualification on goal difference after eight wins in 10 matches, conceding only four goals.

“The main thing is that we’re going to Brazil,” Greece defender Dimitris Siovas said. “People in Greece are going through a difficult time. So above all, what counts is that we give them some joy.”

In Brazil, the Greeks will take on Japan, Colombia and Ivory Coast, a draw considered troubling as Greece struggles to contain pacey players.

The team is coached by Fernando Santos, a stout 59-year-old former defender from Portugal who took over in 2010 from Otto Rehhagel.

When the crisis hit Greece, the country’s top footballers followed the doctors, IT workers and engineers in packing their bags and heading for jobs abroad.

More than half of the current squad plays overseas, including captain Giorgos Karagounis at Fulham, defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos at Borussia Dortmund - Greece’s most expensive player - and striker Georgios Samaras at Celtic.

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Follow Derek Gatopoulos on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos

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