On the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Greek hearts become weary whenever 1994 is mentioned.

It was the year that the best and worst of Greek football (until 2004 at least) came to light.

The highlight of Greece’s history in the World Cup is actually the qualifying campaign that led up to the World Cup finals in 1994.

But what followed, was an embarrassment to the esteem of a proud nation.

Alketas Panagoulias’ side caused pandemonium in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki as Greece qualified for their first-ever World Cup after beating Russia to top spot in the group on the final day of qualification.

In a group originally consisting of Yugoslavia, Russia, Hungary, Iceland and Luxembourg, the Greeks were not expected to qualify.

Everything changed, however, when FIFA exercised its governing power to employ UN Sanctions – as a direct result of the Yugoslav Wars of the early nineties – to suspend Yugoslavia from all competitions.

Greece’s chances immediately improved, but still many preferred the Hungarians as potential group winners, while Russia – competing as an independent nation for the first time since the Soviet Union dissolved.

Nevertheless, Greece’s chances of reaching the final 24 were boosted, and got off to the right start as they opened their campaign with back-to-back wins over Iceland.

The first real test for the Greeks came on the third match day as Hungary posed a difficult task; however, a scoreless stalemate in Thessaloniki suggested the Greeks were a candidate to reach the finals tournament.

Luxembourg was then defeated, before the return match with Hungary in Budapest resulted in yet another Greek victory.

Winners of four of their five opening matches, the Greeks were on a roll as a date with Russia loomed.

Despite taking the lead in Moscow, Greece were dealt a blow, as a late equaliser from the Russians assured the race for top spot was still on.

The result assured the inevitable, as another win for Greece over Luxembourg set up a climactic finish to the group’s schedule as the Russians and Greeks met in Athens with top spot and a place in the finals on the line in the Greek capital.

A Nikos Machlas strike 20 minutes from time gave the home side the win, with the Greeks on hand at the Olympic Stadium in Athens lighting up the Athenian with one of the most extraordinary displays of flares in the history of Greek football.

Both the Greeks and the Russians qualified for the finals, with both sides making their debut in the competition at USA 1994.

If Greece’s best World Cup moment was to qualify for their first-ever World Cup, certainly the country’s performances at USA ‘94 comprise Greece’s worst World Cup moment.

Despite defying many odds to qualify for the finals tournament, Greece looked lifeless in the group stage of the tournament as Panagoulias’ side not only failed to win a match, they couldn’t even manage a goal for that matter.

Drawn in a group featuring powerhouse Argentina, northern neighbours Bulgaria and African giants Nigeria, Greece were not expected to earn entry into the knockout round.

Facing Argentina in their first match, Greece’s campaign got off on the wrong foot. Gabriel Batistuta did not waste any time scoring the first of his three goals against the Greeks as the former Serie A star opened the floodgates within the first two minutes.

He added to his tally just before half-time as Argentina went into the break with a comfortable 2-0 lead.

Diego Maradona added to Greece’s misery on the hour, before Batistuta was back at it again just before full-time to make the score 4-0 in favour of Argentina.

Even though Greek pride was bruised heading into the second round of fixtures, Chicago’s Greek community came out in full support when Greece tackled Bulgaria in the heavily Greek-populated city.

This time it was another master class scorer who would undo the Greeks as Hristo Stoichkov scored a brace of spot-kicks within the hour. Yordan Letchkov and

Daniel Borimirov rounded out the score line to 4-0 as Greece were handed a second thumping.

The final fixture against Nigeria was now no more than just a formality for the Greeks.  Coach Panagoulias rallied his troops ahead of the match, hoping his side could at least exit the tournament with their dignity intact.

The match seemed balanced until Nigeria’s Finidi George broke Greek hearts with a breakthrough on the stroke of half-time.

That set the stage for a nervy second half, which the Nigerians ultimately won when Daniel Amokachi’s delightful strike just before the final whistle confirmed Greece’s third loss of the tournament.

The fact that Bulgaria, Nigeria and Argentina qualified for the first knockout round – since the World Cup was still being played in a 24-team format – only added salt to Greece’s wounds.

Failure to reach a stage as grand as the World Cup has continued to take a toll on Greece’s reputation as a footballing nation.

Despite winning Euro 2004, Greece’s claim to fame has warranted only one appearance at the World Cup, but with South Africa on the minds of Otto Rehhagel’s men, Greece will finally get a second shot at earning World Cup respectability.