Striker's tribute to boy with Down's Syndrome
29 June ~ After scoring the penalty that took Greece into the last 16 of a World Cup for the first time, Georgios Samaras deserved to dominate the newspaper headlines. It was not hugely surprising that Greek journalists' praised the former Heerenveen striker's iron nerves, nor that government MPs would quip that "Samaras saved the country" (Antonis Samaras is the current prime minister of Greece). More unexpected was a video of an 11-year-old Irish boy going viral.
The video emerged after Samaras was reported to have dedicated his winning strike to Jay Beatty, a Celtic fan who has Down's Syndrome. Beatty was carried round the Celtic pitch by "Sammy" as the team celebrated winning the Scottish Premiership in May. Samaras's tribute touched a popular nerve and prompted a Facebook campaign to have the youngster flown over to Brazil. The Greek FA duly stumped up tickets, although the Beatty family have declined the offer.
Beyond this, unlike say Luis Suárez, Samaras had every right to feel vindicated by his performance. He deserved the plaudits. The 29-year-old forward spearheaded Greece's victory over Ivory Coast, by a distance the national team's best performance at a World Cup. English journalists tend to be sniffy about him, seemingly because of his unremarkable spell at Manchester City. But that was eight years ago and he's developed into a really good player, albeit with a touch of the David Luiz where-exactly-is-his-best-position? about him. Currently without a club, he has also looked hungry at this World Cup, and it shows.
Elsewhere sports journalists were encouraged by a career-best performance from José Holebas at left-back, while Andreas Samaris marked a long-awaited start for the national team with a goal. Samaris's performance presents manager Fernando Santos with a dilemma. Pushing aside either of the team's big beasts, Giorgos Karagounis or Kostas Katsouranis, would be a big call but it is difficult to see the more dynamic pressing employed against Ivory Coast being repeated if he does not.
The other big issue is Kostas Mitroglou, an outstanding talent whose career has spectacularly imploded after an ill-judged move to Fulham. Santos has told reporters that a move to Besiktas is on the cards for Mitroglou. Aside from a sore rib, the team's star player continues to be mentally absent without leave.
An awareness of the thinness of the team's resources has just about prevented an explosion of the defiant nationalism that is bubbling beneath so much of everyday life in Greece. Having topped their group, there is also a widespread recognition that Greece's opponents, Costa Rica, start as favourites.This is rooted in the knowledge that Joel Campbell tore the Greek League to shreds last season, and his former Olympiakos team-mates admit that they will have their work cut out keeping the Arsenal forward quiet. Scott Anthony