CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA – Greek hero Giorgos Karagounis is wary of what his former club coach and current Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni may plot when the two sides clash at the World Cup in Natal on June 19.
Karagounis, Greece’s most capped player with 134 appearances who played for Zaccheroni at Inter Milan, featured for Fernando Santos’ side on Tuesday in a 0-0 draw with Nigeria at PPL Park, home to Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union.
Greece started with a second-string lineup, having just played Portugal away on Saturday in another goalless stalemate. But the former European champions finished with a team that closely resembled their best, showing the resilience and directness that could trouble Japan in Brazil.
Yet of the three teams Greece will face in Group C, the 37-year-old former Fulham midfielder is most concerned with the Asian champions coached by his one-time manager in the Serie A, knowing the Italian’s way of thinking.
Greece opens its World Cup campaign against Colombia, followed by Japan and then the Cote d’Ivoire.
“They’re a strong team, they have a good coach and they always play well at the World Cup,” Karagounis, one of only two survivors from the 2004 Euro-winning side, told Kyodo News. “And they’ll be a very tough opponent — very tough.”
A source close to the Greek team believes Karagounis and his teammates genuinely fear Japan the most, given the high-paced style of Zaccheroni’s men.
Japan, under Zico, beat Greece 1-0 in their only meeting to date at the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany. Karagounis echoed the sentiments of his manager, saying their group is an open group with all four teams capable of finishing first or last.
While Greece may be concerned about Japan’s attack, Japan ought to be concerned by Greece’s defense, which conceded just four times in 12 World Cup qualifying games.
“All the teams in the group are very good. A lot of points to be won, and a lot of points to be lost,” Karagounis said. “Theoretically, Colombia should be the favorites in the group — but only by a small margin.
“Japan is a very good team, everyone knows that. They have an excellent coach, they have great technical ability and we respect them.
“We have to play like a team as always. That’s the most important thing. We’re optimistic. When you go to the World Cup you have to be optimistic because you’re going there to win.”