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Game preview: Greece-South Korea

June 11, 2010
Ubha By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com
(Archive)

What's on the line

Greek forward Georgios Samaras -- somehow still at a big club like Celtic after a dismal stint at Manchester City -- sums it up best.

"I think Argentina will be easy group winners," he told FIFA.com in early June. "For the rest, there are three countries -- Nigeria, South Korea and us -- who are around the same level and will fight for second place. It's an open group for second place, and we must be realistic."

In other words, this game is huge. The winner, if there is one, is in a good position to qualify for the second round. The loser's chances drop significantly, given that another defeat is probably on the way against Argentina.

Style and tactics

Greece is a tight and compact 4-5-1, usually looking to expose its opponents on the counterattack or through set pieces. In short, not much has changed since Greece stunned the soccer world by winning Euro 2004. The Greeks do, however, have a finisher in Theofanis Gekas, and the team is younger.

South Korea will probably employ a 4-4-2. Work rate was so important for the squad in 2002 -- then-coach Guus Hiddink made sure of that -- as it reached the semis on home soil, and it'll be important again in South Africa. While the players aren't as big as the Greeks, South Korea makes up for it with its pace.

Players to watch

Theofanis Gekas, Greece. Gekas, who has had a mixed career at club level outside Greece, outshone Wayne Rooney, David Villa and Cristiano Ronaldo in European qualifying, at least in goals. He led Europe with 10 goals, almost half of Greece's output.

Park Ji-Sung, South Korea. Park, playing in his third World Cup, remains one of the most underrated players in the Premier League. Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson knows how vital the midfielder is, though, almost always utilizing him in a big game, largely in a defensive role. Park has more room to maneuver at international level, similar to his days at PSV.

What we can expect

Because both teams know the significance of the game, the start could be cagey (translation -- dour). Then again, it's hard to picture either team sitting back and settling for a draw. Greece might become more adventuresome. And expect the players to send a ton of crosses into the box, because South Korea suffered a blow pre-tournament when starting central defender Kwak Tae-Hwi was sidelined with a knee injury.

South Korea will hope winger Lee Chung-Yong, who performed well as a playmaker with Bolton last season, gets some freedom. Park Chu-Young will be waiting in the box. Impressive with Monaco, Park has been linked with a transfer to Everton, Fulham and Aston Villa.

Intangibles

Greece won't get a better chance to win a World Cup game. And it desperately wants to, having lost all three of its previous World Cup clashes in 1994.

Who'll win

A 1-1 draw.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.