Bloemfontein: Greece and Nigeria are in the same predicament ahead of their World Cup Group B match tomorrow: lose and they`re almost certain of a first-round exit.
But Otto Rehhagel`s Greek lineup`s position is even more grim.
Nigeria only conceded one goal and went close to scoring a late equalizer in an opening loss to Argentina, while the Greeks lost 2-0 to 2002 World Cup semifinalists South Korea and still have to face Lionel Messi and the Argentine squad in their last group game.
Rehhagel led Greece to an unexpected European championship title in 2004 with a defense-first philosophy that demands his players follow his tactics precisely, denying opponents space and capitalizing on set-piece attacks.
And that`s their emphasis again.
"The team has to have a defensive capability in modern football," goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis said. "The whole team has to shut down spaces - so it`s not an issue of individual players or the defense alone."
After the loss to the South Koreans, where Greece failed to stick to his plans and conceded a crucial early goal when they failed to clear a free kick, Rehhagel warned his players to follow his instructions or they`d be headed home.
It seems they were listening.
Striker Dimitris Salpingidis has been also championing the defense-first mindset, saying "good teams are defined by a strong defense, but they`re are able to score when the opportunity arises. That`s what we have to do."
Greece is still searching for its first World Cup goal, having conceded 10 goals and failing to score in three losses in its only other trip to the finals in 1994, and needs to find the back of the net in South Africa to maintain hopes of advancing.
If Nigeria`s opening performance against Argentina is any indication, Greece has a rough road ahead. The Africans played well against Diego Maradona`s talented squad.
"They managed to trouble Argentina in their opening game," Salpingidis said. "Nigeria is a very good team - we`ve seen them on tapes - they are fast and play with high quality. We must concentrate for the entire 90 minutes and be totally prepared."