Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Greeks face Czech scoring machine

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP Greece coach Otto Rehhagel has to find a way to beat the top-scoring Czech Republic at Porto's Dragao stadium in order to reach the finals

AP , PORTO, PORTUGAL

Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved walks to the team bus with after the closed practice session at the municipal stadium Sintra, Portugal, Tuesday. The Czech Republic have asked UEFA to review the incident which resulted in Nedved receiving a yellow card against Denmark at Euro 2004. The Czech Republic will play Greece today in the semifinals.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The last time Czech Republic reached the European Championship final it started the competition as a rank outsider. Now Greece is the underdog in today's Euro 2004 semifinal.

The Czechs, runners-up in 1996, have impressed greatly, scoring 10 goals, and start heavy favorite to reach a second final in the last three showings.

German Rehhagel is confident he was worked out how to cause another upset, just like he said before the 1-0 quarterfinal win over defending champion France.

"The Czechs have a very good playing style and the best players in the tournament," Rehhagel said. "I won't tell you what I will do, but I have a precise plan to stop them."

Neutralizing a side containing the talents of Milan Baros, Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller will take another monumental effort from a defense-minded Greek team whose strength is soaking up pressure and launching counterattacks.

Baros has scored eight times in his last six games for his country and leads the Euro 2004 scoring charts with five strikes. With 21 in 29 international matches, his 0.72 goals per game ratio is the best in national team history.

Alongside beanpole Koller, the tournament's tallest player at 2.03 meters, Baros has formed a lethal partnership, and Greece's defense has been taking measures to cope.

"We have watched them on video with our coach," said defender Michail Kapsis. "He [Rehhagel] will give us the exact details how to stop them. Baros is scoring a lot of goals and Koller is very dangerous in the air."

Since joining Liverpool in 2001, Baros has scored more goals (17) for his country than for his club (14). Now clear of injury and full of confidence, he has Michel Platini's 1984 tournament record nine goals in his sights.

"Of course that would be nice, but let's just see how things go," Baros said.

At Euro '96, the Czechs reached the final with the same gritty, combative, counterattacking style which has served Greece well so far.

Eight years on, the change in approach and mentality couldn't be greater.

There's still the team spirit, a common trait in Czech squads over decades, but the side exudes confidence and has enough talent to outplay anyone.

Another difference is also apparent.

In '96, press conferences were organized ad hoc at the team's hotel -- comfortable but not glamorous -- in Preston, northern England. Journalists mingled with players at a lounge with free beer on tap, making the Czechs instant favorites with the media.

Now the likes of Nedved and Baros rest in luxurious quarters and access is limited, with strictly mineral water on the menu.

Meanwhile, stopping Juventus midfielder Nedved will be vital to Greece's chances. Against France, the Greek midfield swamped maestro Zinedine Zidane and the frustration got to the Real Madrid star, who was booked.

Nedved cannot afford to lose his cool.

Should he receive a yellow card Thursday, he would be ruled out for a possible final against Portugal or Netherlands, the other semifinalists.

UEFA declined Tuesday to review an incident in which Nedved was cautioned for fouling Jesper Groenkjaer in Sunday's 3-0 quarterfinal win against Denmark.

"I didn't deserve to be booked," Nedved said.

Coach Karel Bruckner also has injury worries. Defender Rene Bolf, who strained a leg muscle against Denmark, practiced on Tuesday and will be fit but right back Martin Jiranek, who also suffered a muscle injury, is highly doubtful.

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