I was unable to travel with Greece to Recife for the Round of 16 game against Costa Rica, but here in Santiago, Chile, I was lucky enough to find a small group of Greek-Chileans to watch the game with.
A new Chilean friend, Álvaro, spent over seven years living in Greece and Cyprus. He invited me to join him at Opa Opa Comida Griega to watch the game. Our friend Stathis from Patras joined us later.
I arrived to a small crowd of about 15 Greek-Chileans, ordered a moussaka (which wasn’t bad), and settled in to watch the game.
Only three people spoke any Greek, but their love and passion for Greece was obvious. Many had Greek flags painted on their faces and were wearing Greece’s blue and white jerseys.
We were all stunned by Costa Rica’s goal in the 2nd half but nobody gave up hope. The entire restaurant erupted when Sokratis Papastathopoulos drew even in stoppage time, and the fever pitch grew with every Greek chance on goal.
With the game going to penalties, we collectively cheered and sighed, and ultimately, tears flowed freely.
Here were a small group of ethnic Greeks who didn’t speak a word of Greek, had never been to Greece – many who had never left Chile – standing and applauding the boys for their effort. These people also had to endure their birth country losing on penalties to Brazil just a day earlier. It couldn’t have been more touching. This is proof the Greek spirit will never die, all the way at the end of the earth in Chile.
Greece played an incredible game. The passion and heart shown by every player was unmatched. Finishing could be criticized as we had plenty of chances, but Costa Rica’s keeper Keylor Navas was fantastic and up to the task for his country. Costa Rica’s goal was ugly, but again, we were capable of winning in spite of it.
I couldn’t be more proud of what this team has accomplished. They never gave up in any of the games they played, and they advanced Greece further than it has ever gone before in the World Cup.
As for the penalties, what can I say? A lot of deserving teams have been knocked out in a penalty shootout – now Greece is included in this group. The image of Fanis Gekas below broke my heart. His shot was blocked and now he will be an unfortunate scapegoat to a small group of ungrateful Greeks. He has scored important goals for club and country in the past, and I have rightly criticized his play at times, but I will never say anything bad about him in the future. Lining up to take a penalty for your country in the World Cup takes a lot of guts. To me he is a hero.
Georgios Karagounis retired after the game. Nobody played with more heart and soul for Greece over the past 15 years, or probably ever. No player was more loved by his teammates. Nobody helped the younger players grow more than him. With 139 caps, 10 goals, and leadership that can’t be measured, his contributions will be sorely missed. The 20 million Greeks around the world cannot give him enough thanks. I hope he can continue with the national team in some capacity.
Fernando Santos is also leaving his post as manager. His tenure was tumultuous at times. We lost games we shouldn’t have lost and his lineup selections were often questionable, but in the end, his four years can be deemed successful. He helped improved Greece’s standing and the national team has never been in better shape for the future.