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Greece continue glory bid

Published: Wednesday 16 June 2004, 7.19CET
Greece are looking to complete an unlikely double over Iberian opposition as they face an equally buoyant Spain on Wednesday night.
by Matthew Spiro
from Porto
 
Published: Wednesday 16 June 2004, 7.19CET

Greece continue glory bid

Greece are looking to complete an unlikely double over Iberian opposition as they face an equally buoyant Spain on Wednesday night.

Greece are looking to complete an unlikely double over Iberian opposition as they face Spain in their second Group A game five days after upsetting host nation Portugal.

Impressive win
Otto Rehhagel's team claimed their seventh consecutive victory in competitive matches on Saturday, beating Portugal 2-1 with goals from Georgios Karagounis and Angelos Basinas. And having finished above Spain in their qualifying campaign - securing an impressive 1-0 win in Zaragoza on the way - they go into Wednesday's fixture at the Estádio do Bessa Século XXI in Porto full of confidence.

Finest hour
Prior to Saturday's shock result, Greece had never scored a goal in a major tournament, let alone claimed a victory, so it was hardly surprising that several players, including captain Theodoros Zagorakis, described it as the greatest moment of their careers.

Fully focused
But Rehhagel has been working hard this week on keeping his players' minds focused. "Beating Portugal was a great achievement but it will mean less if we fail to qualify for the quarter-finals," he warned.

Duo fit
Rehhagel is unlikely to tamper significantly with his lineup, although defender Nikolaos Dabizas and forward Themistoklis Nikolaidis are both fit again. Dabizas, who has recovered from a back injury, will step in should Rehhagel revert to a five-man defence, although Traianos Dellas and Mihalis Kapsis are expected to continue their partnership if Greece stick with their 4-1-3-2 formation.

Striking options
The midfield will be anchored by Zagorakis, while Basinas is likely to play in the centre, Stylianos Giannakopoulos on the left and Karagounis on the right. In attack, Rehhagel could opt for the canny Nikolaidis and not Zisis Vryzas as Angelos Charisteas's strike partner. "I am 100 per cent fit and ready to play," Nikolaidis, who has shaken off a calf strain, said on Tuesday.

Old friends
Nikolaidis knows the Spanish players better than most having played for Club Atlético de Madrid last season, and has singled out Juan Carlos Valerón and Fernando Torres as the danger men.

Looked lively
Torres looked lively when he came on as a substitute in the 1-0 win against Russia, but should start on the bench. He nevertheless had a word of encouragement for his club-mate Nikolaidis, saying: "We speak on the phone every day. I told him Greece would beat Portugal 2-0, although I'm not making the same prediction for Wednesday!"

Chance to start
Valerón also had to be content with a substitute's role in the first game but after scoring the winner just 36 seconds after his introduction, is due a promotion. Spain coach Iñaki Sáez hinted that the RC Deportivo La Coruña playmaker would replace Fernando Morientes, with Raúl González advancing into the centre-forward position.

Centrally strong
Sáez believes his two wingers, Vicente Rodríguez and Joseba Etxeberria, hold the key to success, emphasising the importance of attacking Greece down the flanks. "They are very strong through the centre and if we try to go through the middle we'll have problems," he said.

Keeping quiet
The coach has strayed from his traditional policy of announcing his side on the eve of the game, explaining that naming the composition of his strike force could help Greece decide whether to play with two or three central defenders. He did, however, confirm that he would not change his system, which means Spain will line up in a 4-2-3-1.

Joaquín fit
Central defender Carlos Marchena could be replaced by César Martín after picking up a yellow card against Russia, while Xabi Alonso is expected to take Rubén Baraja's place in central midfield to provide a further attacking option. Meanwhile, winger Joaquín Sánchez has recovered from an ankle injury and should take his place on the bench.

Greece (probable): Nikopolidis; Seitaridis, Dellas, Kapsis, Fyssas; Zagorakis; Giannakopoulos, Basinas, Karagounis; Nikolaidis, Charisteas.

Spain (probable): Casillas; Puyol, Marchena, Helguera, Raúl Bravo; Albelda, Xabi Alonso; Etxeberria, Valerón, Vicente; Raúl González.

Last updated: 16/06/04 19.20CET

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