The early pacesetters in UEFA EURO 2012 Group F come face to face on Saturday when Croatia visit Israel hoping for a repeat of their thrilling success there four years ago. In the two Friday fixtures, Georgia coach Temuri Ketsbaia said anything other than victory against Malta would be "a catastrophe" while teenager Greece playmaker Giannis Fetfatzidis has been thrilled to be given a first call for the visit of Latvia.
Israel v Croatia, Ramat Gan
One of only two qualifiers on Saturday, this match brings together a pair of unbeaten sides boasting four points from two games. However, each coach has injury problems to contend with. As well as Yossi Benayoun, Israel coach Luis Fernandez has lost midfielder Beram Kayal and striker Omer Damari while Lior Rafaelov is a doubt. Hence late calls for Gal Alberman and Ben Sahar. As for Croatia, who won a thrilling UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier 4-3 in Israel, Slaven Bilić does without the suspended Darijo Srna and injured forwards Mladen Petrić and Nikica Jelavić; Mate Bilić has joined the squad. The coach believes left-back Ivan Strinić will be fit despite a knock at the weekend.
Greece v Latvia, Piraeus
Uncapped Olympiacos FC playmaker Ioannis Fetfatzidis, 19, was brought into the Greece squad on Monday, with Georgios Samaras and Nikos Liberopoulos both struggling with injuries. Sakis Prittas has already dropped out of the reckoning after injuring his collarbone in training. "In our first home game, against Georgia, there weren't many in the stands because of the U2 concert on the same day in Athens," said Fernando Santos, whose team drew with Georgia and then Croatia last month. "On Friday, we will be U2!"
Latvia, a point above Greece, have lost in-form Maksims Rafaļskis and, with Vladimirs Kolesnicenko and Deniss Kačanovs also sidelined, striker Kristaps Grebis and defender Dzintars Zirnis have been drafted. Coach Aleksandrs Starkovs said: "It's not just an important match, but a key head-to-head that could determine our approach to the campaign. With a good result we can hope for the best. I'm sure we have a chance. We faced Greece many times and even won there. In 1999 Maris Verpakovskis made his debut in Athens and scored. Anything's possible."
Georgia v Malta, Tbilisi
Like Greece, Georgia drew twice in September, putting them two points ahead of Malta, who beat their hosts on Friday 2-0 in a Ta'Qali friendly last year. Georgia's coach Temuri Ketsbaia, who has replaced Grigol Bediashvili and Mate Gvinianidze with Roin Kvaskhvadze and Levan Kakubava, said: "Matches against Malta and Latvia [on Tuesday] are really important for me, and not because we haven't won against them lately. After these games we'll be clear about our future. I don't think we can underestimate them, we don't need any surprises. Anything other than a victory against Malta will be a catastrophe." Ferencvárosi TC goalkeeper Justin Haber and forward André Schembri are back in the Malta party after injury.
A preview of the next set of fixtures in Group F on Tuesday – Greece v Israel, Croatia v Malta, and Latvia v Georgia – will be published at the weekend.
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