The challenge of plotting Greece's path through UEFA EURO 2012 Group A has left Fernando Santos "feeling like a coach again". Here Santos tells UEFA.com about his preparations for taking on co-hosts Poland in the opening match and why there are no limits to his team's ambition at the finals. "It's extremely important for the country that we make a statement," he said.
UEFA.com: How would you characterise the strength of your Greece side, both on and off the field?
Fernando Santos: Greece's strength is the spirit of the team. The players show great passion when they play for their national team, they give everything they have on the pitch and they do that both off and on the field. I'm very satisfied with what the players have done [on the training ground]. At the moment this isn't easy, because many of them are tired. The league ended very late, with the play-offs we had, but I have absolute confidence in my players in terms of their character, determination and passion.
UEFA.com: How do you prepare for the opening match and for playing against co-hosts Poland?
Fernando Santos: There were two phases. The first was preparation, in which I thought exclusively about my team and the processes of play – both in defensive and offensive terms. When we were in Austria we were thinking about ourselves and what we should do. We are closer to the competition now, so we have to get to know our opponents.
This week we will essentially work and think about the match against Poland. We will think about one match at a time; we won't think about all three teams, we will concentrate exclusively on Poland. After Poland we will think about the Czech Republic, and after the Czechs we will think about Russia. Humility is fundamental to be able to win matches – that is, to respect our opponents without fearing them. That's what I want from my players. They have to do what they have to do, but at the same time they should know what the opposition do.
UEFA.com: What will be the key to winning the opening match?
Poland are a strong team with quality players. It's enough to say that three of them were champions recently in the German league, which is very competitive. They are a team who will also be counting on the support of their fans – that's very important, and we also have to prepare for that. We will open the European Championship against Poland on their home ground. [UEFA EURO 2004 survivors Giorgios] Karagounis and [Kostas] Katsouranis have the experience of knowing what it is like to play the first match in a competition against the home team, so they have to pass on that message.
I am passing the message on as well, because we have to expect a very aggressive Polish team in front of their fans. So we will have to play with that as well. If we can be very strong and very focused, and if we put our passion onto the pitch, then we will have a chance.
UEFA.com: Could the pressure on Poland be to the advantage of your team?
Fernando Santos: It might be an important thing in our favour, or against us, because from the start the expectation will be very much on the Polish team – they have a full stadium supporting and pushing them. We have to control that situation and eventually turn it in our favour, when things are maybe not going well for them.
UEFA.com: You have spent most of your career in club football, so how does it feel to finally have your team together for a prolonged period after two years of waiting?
Fernando Santos: I would have liked maybe a week more, because I think it could be very important, but for the first time with the national team I feel like a coach again. Normally training a national team, the coach has little to do – it's more about passing on your philosophy for training and preparation. Here we have a bit more time, and of course we feel better because we get out training. Every day we have the players available to us, every day we can try to correct things.
UEFA.com: What do you want from your team in this tournament?
Fernando Santos: I will be satisfied if my team give everything that they have to give. My players on the pitch interpret what I ask of them and I am certain they will give everything. We have no limit to what we want and no team here will limit themselves to only getting through the first round.
We want to get as far as possible, that's what we want, that's what we dream of and I hope we will be able to achieve that. But for me it's extremely important for the country that we make a statement, because we have the capacity; we fight, we work, we are equal to the rest.
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