Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Greeks face tough fight to hang on to title

AP , LEOGANG, AUSTRIA

Greece, only one match into the European Championship, are already close to surrendering the title they won four years ago. After losing to Sweden 2-0 in their Group D opener, the Greeks need a positive result against Russia in Salzburg today. And to make things tougher, Russia are in a similar position.

“It’s a very important game. If we lose we’re out. Everyone knows that,” Greece striker Dimitris Salpingidis said. “We will do everything possible for victory in the next game.”

But a defeat at the Wals-Siezenheim stadium could also end Russia’s chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals and they have injury worries.

Striker Pavel Pogrebnyak has been ruled out of Euro 2008 with a left knee injury and attacking midfielder Andrei Arshavin is suspended for the Greece game. On Thursday, Hiddink said replacement striker Roman Pavlyuchenko had a leg muscle injury and it was unclear if he would be fit for today.

Greece appeared content to play for a draw and offered virtually nothing in attack against Sweden, with coach Otto Rehhagel widely criticized for fielding a lineup that included five defenders and seven players from the team that won Euro 2004. Hiddink, meanwhile, has called his players naive and lambasted them for handing Spain a 4-1 win with basic errors.

Now, Hiddink seems to be trying to goad Greece into playing a more attacking style today.

“I think as European champion you should take a little bit more initiative,” Hiddink said. “But OK, that’s their way of playing, we have to deal with that.”

Russia didn’t deal with that style of play against Spain, attacking early and then giving the ball away too easily to set up Spanish counterattacks.

“We had wallets in our pockets and we gave them to the Spanish team — ‘Take it please,’” Hiddink said. “It was naive. We were not outplayed, we gave it away.’’

Hiddink might get his wish for a Greece team prepared to take risks and attack.

“We only had two chances in the whole 90 minutes ... It’s out of the question to talk about qualifying from the group if we play this way,” attacking midfielder Yiannis Amanatidis said. “The Russia game will be like a cup final for us. We have to fix our mistakes and play a more attacking game.”

Russia defender Roman Shirokov also thinks his side will have an easier game if Greece attack.

“I don’t think the defensive style of Greece will be good for Russia,” he said. “It is much better if the opponent is open — then we can go forward with the ball. I would prefer them to play an open game. It is very hard to get through Greece’s defensive lines.”

History is not on Greece’s side — the Greeks have only beaten Russia once in their eight previous meetings. Russia have won four times. Greece’s only win came 15 years ago, when they beat Russia 1-0 at home in a World Cup qualifier.

Central defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos hopes the defeat by Sweden would give Greece the same spur they got after a shock 4-1 home defeat to Turkey in March last year.

“After we lost to Turkey, we didn’t lose a game and we qualified for the European Championship. We wanted a win [against the Swedes] and it would have given us a good start, but that didn’t happen,” Kyrgiakos said.

“We’re not stressed but we know how important the game is. That’s all,” he said.

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