Football

5 Greece players to watch at the World Cup

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 best of the younger players is Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a Schalke defender who was a key player in the national team's run to the quarterfinals at Euro 2012.

Here are five players to watch:

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."

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.

KYRIAKOS PAPADOPOULOS

Greece coach Fernando Santos has frequently gambled on young players, but most have failed to live up to their promise in the national team. The big exception is Kyriakos Papadopoulos, the defender who was a standout for Greek team at Euro 2012.

The 22-year-old Schalke player attracted Liverpool's attention before a knee injury kept him on the sidelines for 13 months. Still a fitness worry, his partnership with dependable center back Sokratis Papastathopoulos would be a major relief for Greece as they take on faster World Cup opponents in Japan, Colombia and Ivory Coast.

"I'm not the kind of person who gives up easily," Papadopoulos said. "I have to work hard to get back, and that's what I'm doing."

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.

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.

"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."

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