Greece coach Fernando Santos hailed his team’s last-gasp qualification for the World Cup knockout stage with a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast on Tuesday as a result of their rediscovered focus that was lacking earlier in the tournament.
The Greeks, who hit the woodwork three times in the game and were seconds away from elimination, were awarded a stoppage time penalty with Giorgos Samaras keeping a cool head to convert and send them to the last 16 for the first time in three attempts.
“The first message I want to pass onto my players is that we need to focus and we need a lot of attention,” said the Portuguese. “I am not one to celebrate like mad when we win but I also do not feel depressed when we lose.”
“I think in reality the best team on the pitch won today…a fair victory. In the first matches we lacked focus. We didn’t have our main weapon which is to remain focused.”
Greece lost their opening Group C game to Colombia before a 0-0 draw against Japan.
Santos, once known for his chain-smoking habit on the sidelines, said his players had stuck to their guns, even when Ivory Coast cancelled out their lead in the 74th minute. The Africans would have advanced with a draw were it not for Samaras’s last-gasp spot-kick.
“I told my players that firstly this wasn’t a match without tomorrow, this was a game with a tomorrow. What I felt was exactly that, there was a tomorrow.”
Greece will now face Group D winners Costa Rica, who beat Italy and Uruguay and drew with England to book their spot in the last 16.
“Costa Rica moved on in a group that was called the group of death,” said Santos. “It was considered to be the weakest team and came out first in their group. This is a sign the team that passes first must be a very strong team.”
Greece will be without midfielder Panagiotis Kone, who picked up a muscle injury and was taken off in the first half.
Keeper Orestis Karnezis was also taken off but will be fit to play on Sunday in Recife, said the coach.
“Kone won’t play, but we will have other players,” said Santos, who promised himself some wine and at least one or two cigarettes as reward.
“I already smoked twice today but I will have some wine and some a few cigarettes.”