The bulk of the attendees at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil have been determined after fierce qualification battles all over the globe, but some nations’ fate is still to be decided.
This Friday sees the first legs of the World Cup play-offs in Europe, with eight hopeful countries set to be whittled down to four in ecstasy, four in despair.
One football-mad nation keen to take their place on the biggest stage is Greece, who take on Romania for a spot in Brazil.
Greece have only ever played at the World Cup twice, being knocked out at the group stages in 1994 and 2010.
The current squad lives in the shadow of their historic 2004 equivalents, who against all odds were crowned European champions in Portugal – undoubtedly the proudest moment in Greek football history.
With Fernando Santos at the helm, Greece finished second in their qualification pool behind Bosnia, and host Romania in the first leg of their playoff.
One player that could well be the difference between a World Cup berth or failure is in-form Olympiacos striker Konstantinos “Kostas” Mitroglou.
The 25-year-old is the current top goalscorer in Greek domestic football, but must translate this to the international game if his country are to overcome a spirited Romanian outfit.
Mitroglou’s footballing journey began in Germany, as despite being born in Kavala his parents moved to North Rhine-Westphalia while he was a child.
After superlative goalscoring records as a teen, the Greek attacker was picked up by Borussia Mönchengladbach, and he broke into the reserve side in 2006.
Never given a chance to play in the first team, Mitroglou netted a respectable 14 goals in 33 games for the Mönchengladbach reserves, before a return to his homeland came beckoning.
Olympiacos signed the forward in 2007, and he has been with the Karaiskakis Stadium outfit since. Despite his current lethal marksmanship, Mitroglou has had good and bad days at the Piraeus-based club.
Spanish manager Ernesto Valverde did not value Mitroglou in the same light as managers before and since. During the current Athletic Bilbao’s time at the club both in 2008-09 and 2010-12, Mitroglou was largely a fringe figure.
Loan spells ensured regular football, with the hitman finding his aim at Panionios and Atromitos respectively. At the latter, Mitroglou proved himself to the Greek footballing community with 17 goals in 34 games in 2011-12. He was subsequently voted as the Superleague Greece Greek Footballer of the Year for the campaign.
Following Valderde’s departure to Valencia, Mitroglou returned to Olympiacos and has not looked back since. Given a chance to play, he has displayed his considerable ability and eye for goal consistently over the last 18 months.
Last season Mitroglou was still used in a squad rotation system, but managed to net 11 times over the course of the season to help Olympiacos to be crowned as Greek champions.
This season, in a new-look attacking line-up, Mitroglou has prospered. A strike partnership with experienced Argentine Javier Saviola has been supplied by mercurial Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell, with Olympiacos unbeaten after 11 league games, ten of them victories.
Finally the main man in attack, Mitroglou has blasted his side to the top of the table, with an unprecedented 14 goals in ten games. Such is his form, European scouts from leading clubs are sitting up and taking note of the predatory forward.
Mitroglou has been involved in the Greek national set-up since 2009, but is yet to show the blistering form that has shot him into the limelight at club level. Two goals in World Cup qualifying made it five in total over the course of 26 Greece caps, but he will be given a chance to improve this against Romania on Friday.
Obviously immensely talented, Mitroglou is shining bright now that he is given the chance to play regularly at club level. He could well be the man to fire an expectant Greece to the World Cup.