5 things to know about the Greece-Romania playoff

Greece wants to build on a decade of football achievement, and
Romania hopes to restore past glory after years of frustration.

Both are teams with few individual stars that rely on a strong
group ethic, but only one of them will make it to the World Cup in
Brazil.

Here are five things to know about the World Cup qualification
playoff between Greece and Romania:

TOP RUNNER-UP

With eight victories in qualification, Greece was Europe’s top
performing runner-up, losing out on goal difference to Bosnia.

Greece coach Fernando Santos says his team now has an
”obligation” to prevail in the playoffs to ensure their hard work
is rewarded and to lift the spirits of their crisis-hit
country.

Greece has been a regular at major tournaments since its shock
victory at the 2004 European Championship, and Santos says he is
certain his players will overcome a recent run of uninspiring
appearances.

”We will play with heart,” the 59-year-old Portuguese coach
said. ”There is feeling of confidence and belief in our squad. The
Romanians have an excellent team, but I believe that in the end we
will qualify.”

REGAINING GLORY

Romania had a tougher time in a qualification group dominated by
the Netherlands, though ultimately managed to sideline Turkey and
Hungary to finish second.

Now coach Victor Piturca has a chance to regain some of the
glory of the 1990s after his country emerged from a bloody
revolution and inspired the football world, led by Gheorghe
Hagi.

Romania reached the quarterfinals at the 1994 World Cup but has
been absent from the global competition since 1998, when members of
the squad famously dyed their hair blonde before one match.

Piturca, who spent his coaching career jumping between Steaua
Bucharest and the national side, is back in charge of his country
for a third time and is promising to break a generation-long streak
of near-misses.

CAPTAIN, NO CAPTAIN

Piturca hasn’t had the best of luck recently.

Romania captain Vlad Chiriches fractured his nose while playing
for Tottenham against Newcastle in the Premier League on
Sunday.

”He’s a valuable player and he’ll be missed,” Piturca said,
adding that Florin Gardos is likely to fill in as center back.

First-choice goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu is also fighting a
back injury, forcing the late inclusion of Manchester City’s Costel
Pantilimon to the squad.

Greece has fewer injury worries, except for the long-term
absence of Germany-based defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who has
been out for nearly a year after a knee operation.

Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis, with 129 appearances, has
sustained his career since moving to Fulham last year and could be
key to Santos’ plans for a tightly controlled match on Friday.

ALL ZEROS

The Greeks are well known for their low-scoring victories and
impenetrable defense, conceding only four goals during
qualification. The record has left both coaches to openly
contemplate the merits of a scoreless encounter in Piraeus.

”We do hope to score, but 0-0 would not be a bad result for
us,” said Piturca, to which Santos replied: ”We have many
experienced players who know how to win a game without conceding at
home. That is what we are hoping to achieve.”

Greece’s best scoring hope lays with towering forward Kostas
Mitroglou, who has netted 14 of unbeaten Olympiakos’ 34 goals in
the league this season.

Romania will have a historical advantage Friday, having won 17
of its 30 matches against Greece and holding them to a draw on
eight occasions.

The Romanians also ended Santos’ 17-game unbeaten run with a 3-1
friendly win in 2011.

VETERAN VALUE

Adrian Mutu is arguably Romania’s best known player, having
played at Chelsea and Juventus.

But the 34-year-old striker who currently plays on the island of
Corsica for French club Ajaccio was passed over for the
playoffs.

Santos, however, is seeking out his veterans. He recalled
33-year-old striker Fanis Gekas, while his playoff lineup includes
two veterans from the winning 2004 team: 36-year-old Karagounis and
34-year-old Costas Katsouranis, a defensive midfielder who has
played for his country 107 times.