Sifakis banks on grit for success
Few may be backing them to beat Germany, but Greece have become masters of upsetting the odds in recent years. For goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis -- the man charged with thwarting Mario Gomez and Co -- their unique tenacity could well carry them past yet another seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Live on SS3, SS HD3, Maximo and SuperSport.com
That Greece are in the quarterfinals at all is a superb achievement, Fernando Santos's side having stunned Russia 1-0 in their final Group A game to advance at the expense of the section favourites. That came after they had drawn 1-1 with co-hosts Poland despite being reduced to ten men, while their second outing produced a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic that left them on the brink of elimination.
"We Greeks have an attribute that is not found in other people," said Sifakis, whose tournament began when he replaced the injured Kostas Chalkias after 23 minutes against the Czechs. "We're so persistent and eager to win that this goes beyond any kind of preparation, facilities, infrastructure or whatever else the other countries have. And it is something that also shows on the pitch."
Greece's passage to the last eight has inevitably revived memories of Uefa Euro 2004, when the Galanolefki left the watching world speechless by reaching the summit of the European game. Though the intervening years have brought little in the way of success, Sifakis sees similarities between the current squad and their illustrious predecessors, highlighting the strong team spirit in their ranks.
"It's the secret for the big successes of this team," he said in an interview with Uefa.com. "If you go back to 2004, you can't possibly remember a single player standing out from the other 22. All players who participated fought like a single man and we managed to win the Euro."
One player involved in both squads is Giorgos Karagounis, whose goal against Russia proved so vital. Suspended for Friday's last-eight meeting with Germany in Gdansk, he will be sorely missed, but Sifakis sees no reason to fear Joachim Löw's side.
"They are a very strong team, that's true," he said. "They're the big favourites, but, like I said before, we Greeks have an attribute the other teams don't. We have persistence and talent. Unfortunately, we don't have the infrastructure they have in Germany, but our persistence helps us overcome all obstacles.
"They're the favourites, but Russia were also the favourites. We know our potential, we know what we have to do, we know what we must not do, so we are not stressed by the fact that we're playing against a strong team who are the favourites. The stress is on their side, not ours."
That certainly seems to be true of Sifakis at least, the Aris Thessaloniki FC custodian having been sidelined with a knee injury between September and March. Above all, he is thrilled to be taking part in the tournament after so long out of action. "The day I went into hospital to undergo surgery, this was the first goal I had in mind for when I recovered," he explained.
"In the end, I managed to recover earlier than predicted. I started training with the team towards the end of January. I thought I would be here, I really wanted it, and I'm delighted to have finally made it. That was a very difficult six to seven-month period for me, being absent for all that time."
Being out for so long also cost him his starting place in the national team after he had started the qualifying campaign as first choice, and it took Chalkias limping out of the fray against the Czech Republic for him to reclaim his spot – since when he has not conceded. "It was very difficult for me to go on in the 23rd minute, when we were already losing by 2-0 and our chances for the match were significantly reduced," he said.
"Our feelings were very strange, especially for me since I came on from the bench in such an important match. Either way, I'm very pleased that the team qualified for the quarter-finals. We never take each player's individual performance into consideration; everyone plays his own distinct role on the pitch and we all try to give our best so that we can win in the end." That approach could serve them well again on Friday.