Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Smart Way to Approach the World Cup

This is how you handle the long run-up to the World Cup. This is how it is done.

Be modest. Talk your team down a little. Better yet, talk about how good everyone else is.

Have to give credit to Greece's goaltender, Kostas Chalkias. He gets it. In this story you can almost hear him sigh and see him shrug and talk about what a tough group Greece has been drawn into.

But this isn't about hopelessness.

The Greeks know what they can do. What is essentially the same team, six years later, won the 2004 European championship. And also qualified out of a tough group last year (by winning a second-place playoffs from the Ukraine) to make South Africa 2010.

My guess is that inside the team, the Greeks are quietly confident. These guys have won before. And if you can win the Euro championship, you certainly are a contender for the World Cup.

Now, few of us really want that. Greece, under coach Otto Rehhagel, has been about sitting back and counter-attacking and winning 1-0 games of the sort that would make calcio fans yawn. But it works for this group.

Greece is a little bit under the radar for this World Cup. Chalkias said nothing to change that. In fact, he reinforced it. "We did well to get here," etc.

Talking down your chances even when you have some fairly recent history of significant success ... that's how you go to a World Cup. Not like Japan's coach, who says the semifinals are his team's goal. Not like the entirety of England, which is talking about who the Three Lions will get in the semifinals.

Like Kostas Chalkias. "Hmm. Gonna be tough. We'll be happy to survive the group phase." And then, on a team that knows what it is about, that understands how it plays, with a proven formula for success ... anything can happen. We may be surprised, but the Greek team won't be.

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