Ever since the fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453, Greeks have been suspicious of Tuesdays. Bad things happen on the third day of the week – like the sacking of a city that can bring down an entire empire.
Next week, nearly 600 years after Byzantium's demise, Greece must take on Argentina in their final game to qualify for the next round of the World Cup. Already the superstitious are pointing out that the game is on Tuesday. For even the most optimistic of fans – those who still wax lyrical about Greece's extraordinary achievement clinching the European Championship in 2004 despite all the odds – the omens are foreboding.
Barely minutes after the side's first World Cup win yesterday, Otto Rehhagel, the no-nonsense German who has coached Greece for the past nine years, appeared to echo the sentiment. "Argentina is a world-class team," he said. "They will clearly be better than us and we have got to try and see how to cope with them."
But despite the impending sense of dread, the euphoria ignited here by the team's historic 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Bloemfontein is unlikely to fade fast. Until Thursday Greece had, after all, never scored a goal in the finals of football's top competition.
Set against the humiliating 2-0 opening defeat by South Korea and at a time when the Greeks need all the good news they can get – after months of being bombarded with reports on the parlous state of the country's near bankrupt economy – the team's victory in South Africa is being lauded as nothing short of spectacular.
Irrespective of whether they make it out of the group or not, "King" Otto and his players can be certain of this: they will now be assured a heroes' welcome from the fans when they return to Athens. More than one commentator in breathless explication as their second group match evolved, described the players as "demi-gods who have come to save our country".
And today, it was the turn of the print media. "The players of our national team have brought home the message that at especially difficult times there is always hope for pleasant upsets," opined the mass-selling Ta Nea.
The newspaper described the victory as a "resurrection" for a team that under Rehhagel's increasingly controversial stewardship gave lacklustre performances in warm-up friendly matches ahead of the competition.
In football split seconds count. The moment when Vasilis Torosidis settled Thursday's contest, scoring the team's crucial second goal in the 71st minute, has already assumed an almost sacred quality that looks likely to infect the nation for years to come. "It is the goal that we will all remember, the one moment that I think it is safe to say has made every single person in Greece, happy, happy, happy," said Tonia Petropoulou, watching the match with friends on a giant screen outside an Athens cafe.
"We haven't felt such joy since the 2004 European Championship, which seems like the golden age when we lived in a very different country."
But dig below the surface and there are not a few among the country's football intelligentsia who see the World Cup as a turning point for the team – and Rehhagel. Irrespective of the win over Nigeria, the side's dismal defeat by South Korea has, say cognoscenti, revealed certain truths that cannot be ignored – namely that Rehhagel's largely defensive game is no longer a winner.
Then again, maybe the German will defy even the most superstitious of Greeks by pulling off the seemingly impossible when his team meet Diego Maradona's men on Tuesday.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.