5 Greece players to watch at World Cup

May 30, 12:14 PM

ATHENS, Greece (AP) With few famous players, Greece will rely heavily on a handful of team members who had a decisive role in qualifying for the World Cup.

The captain and team motivator is 37-year-old Giorgos Karagounis, one of the few surviving members of the squad that won the 2004 European Championship.

One of the younger standouts is Giannis Fetfatzidis, the short and fast attacking midfielder who made the squad despite a decision by coach Fernando Santos to opt for experience.

Here are five players to watch:

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GIORGOS KARAGOUNIS

With 132 national team appearances, Giorgos Karagounis has the most caps in Greek history and remains a presence that can still turn a game.

Karagounis can score from distance and serve up the set pieces that are key to many of his team's low-score victories.

In 2012, Karagounis took his inexhaustible energy to struggling Premier League club Fulham, and says he's delighted to take his career past his mid-thirties and give Greeks joy as they struggle through financial crisis.

''People wanted this (World Cup qualification) so badly,'' Karagounis said. ''Some may not recognize it, but our team has talent, and going to Brazil is a dream for every player and every fan. As a player, I feel blessed.''

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KOSTAS MITROGLOU

The camera-shy but physically powerful Kostas Mitroglou has had a difficult time since joining Giorgos Karagounis at Fulham this season. But the 26-year-old striker was instrumental in maintaining Olympiakos' domestic dominance before his departure, scoring 14 goals.

Mitroglou also scored three times in the 4-2 aggregate win over Romania in the World Cup playoffs.

The German-born forward, nicknamed the ''Gunslinger'' in the Greek media, gives coach Fernando Santos better options in attack, as other young strikers have failed to make an impact and goal-scoring standbys Dimitris Salpingidis, 32, and Fanis Gekas, 33, could lose pace.

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SOKRATIS PAPASTATHOPOULOS

His last name is too long to fit on the back of his shirt (he uses the name Sokratis), but Borussia Dortmund's Papastathopoulos is the key player in Greece's injury-plagued defense as they take on faster World Cup opponents Colombia, Japan, and Ivory Coast. Schalke defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Dimitris Siovas of Olympiakos are both out.

Quiet and effective, Papastathopoulos played the full 90 minutes in all of Greece's qualifying matches except when Greece hosted Liechtenstein last October when coach Santos decided to rest him. And at 25, he has already played for his country 46 times, and speaks with the realism of Greek defender.

''We can make it out of the group with four points. That's what happened in 2004. So the first game against Colombia is really important. ''

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GIANNIS FETFATZIDIS

In Greece's last warm-up match on home soil, the team slumped to a 2-0 loss against South Korea, with players looking like they lacked motivation to prepare for the World Cup.

It was a performance that ironically revived the fortunes of attacking midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis, whose presence as a late substitute reinvigorated the home side, confirmed his reputation for being fast and flexible, and made him a likely choice for the World Cup squad.

The 23-year-old Fetfatzidis' recent goal against Lazio for Serie A club Genoa didn't hurt him either.

Greece's big clubs spotted and fought for the player before he was in his teens, and he was eventually signed by Olympiakos before moving to Italy.

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ORESTIS KARNEZIS

Greece is famous for its defenders, but also has no shortage of reliable goalkeepers - enough to trouble coach Fernando Santos for his choice for three on the squad.

Despite his move from Panathinaikos, 28-year-old Orestis Karnezis started in all 10 of Greece's qualifiers - conceding only four goals - and was also picked for the two playoff matches.

On loan to Granada from Udinese, Karnezis' lack of game time remains a worry, but he is looking forward to playing in Brazil.

''It's the dream of a lifetime,'' Karnezis said. ''We had a target and we reached it. We have a full squad and we deserve to be there.''