Choose Costa Rica's style over Greek negativity
COSTA RICA v GREECE
(Tomorrow, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
Euro 2004 was the high point of the ugly game.
Cynicism reigned. Football was suffocated. The Greeks stuck a pillow across the tournament and pressed hard until it stopped kicking, stopped breathing.
Being present at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon was a religious experience in the wrong way.
Greece defeating Portugal in their own background was a funeral; a death in the football family.
Even the romance of the underdog failed to overcome the rudimentary tactics of the heroic Hellas.
David hurled a single stone at Goliath to prevail. He didn't put 10 men behind the ball and prayed for a set-piece.
Thankfully, the Spaniards arrived four years later with life-affirming defibrillators and brought the game back from the brink; its renaissance reaching a dizzying peak here on the pristine pitches of Brazil.
An astonishing 136 goals flew in during the group stages.
In South Africa, the era of the tiki-taka possession peddlers saw only 101. In 2006, it was 117; 130 in 2002 and 126 in 1998. This World Cup gloriously threatens to chalk up a record goal tally.
As always, the Brazilians are beautifully bucking football trends. As always, so are the Greeks.
While most teams pranced into the Round of 16, they plodded.
Stuffed 3-0 in the opener by those choreographed Colombians, they conspired with the Japanese to produce the most stultifying stalemate of the tournament and sneaked through, inexplicably, against the Ivory Coast.
The Greeks relied on a stoppage time penalty, naturally.
Different strokes for different folks, perhaps, but the Costa Ricans are equally straitjacketed at a tournament of superstars by limited resources.
They haven't laboured. They have liberated.
The so-called whipping boys of Group D refused to self-flagellate or succumb to stereotype.
They handed the whips to England and Italy and allowed their artificially-inflated egos to pummel themselves into submission.
The Ticos came to the party to play.
Manager Jorge Luis Pinto is nobody's fool. His 4-5-1 formation is negative only to the myopic.
He adheres to the current philosophy of springing counter-attacks to devastating effect, releasing Christian Bolanos and Bryan Ruiz to feed a voracious Joel Campbell.
Greece coach Fernando Santos favours the 4-3-3, but the line-up is crippled by a distinct dearth of creativity at its centre, forcing the Greeks to lapse into bad habits.
They instinctively withdraw.
Rumours within the training camp suggest that skipper Kostas Katsouranis, who was suspended on Tuesday, will again be replaced by Giorgos Karagounis.
Greece's most capped player can still pick a pass, but the wise old man wasn't picked often enough by relegated Fulham last season. The woeful West Londoners released him, but Greek progress depends on him releasing Georgios Samaras.
The Greeks feel off-kilter in Brazil. Their ongoing presence is an incongruous one.
In a tournament invigorated by an explosion of colour, a good deal coming from the swinging, singing Costa Ricans; the huffing Hellas are playing sepia soccer in a high-definition World Cup.
The Cinderella story has gone stale. The glass slipper no long fits a foot expected to hoof high balls into the box.
Every side has an engrossing story to tell at this tournament; one dependent on plot, character, intrigue and ingenuity, rather than a single-strand narrative about gallant underdogs.
The Greeks are not underdogs, but out of touch. The game has moved on.
Football is now winning, which means they no longer can.