Greece right-back Giourkas Seitaridis is determined to put an injury-hampered season behind him with a successful campaign in Austria and Switzerland, although he is wise enough to recognise his team are not quite the unknown quantity they were four years ago.
Seitaridis was a key member of Greece's victorious side at UEFA EURO 2004™ and, after an achilles problem restricted him to just 14 league appearances for Club Atlético de Madrid in 2007/08, he is now getting ready for the challenge of defending the European title. "Our first goal for EURO is to get past the group stage," the 27-year-old said. "From then on, no one can predict what will happen because it's the knockout phase. We are European champions and we have an obligation to qualify. It's not the same as in 2004. Back then, we had no goals. We went to Portugal to enjoy ourselves playing football. Now we have to get through the group stage."
If it is understandable that there should be more pressure on the Greeks to do well, so it should not surprise that the they are planning on using a similar recipe that brought success in Portugal. "We will go out on the pitch with the same tactics, the same level of concentration," Seitaridis said before explaining that the perception of Greece is the main difference between now and years gone by. "Nowadays, the only change is the way our opponents see us. Perhaps a few years back they underestimated us, because they didn't know us well. We hadn't achieved anything. Now it's different."
There have been some changes in personnel too, the former Panathinaikos FC man explaining: "Some players retired due to age, some new guys came into the squad and now the team is still in the process of evolving. The newcomers have settled very well in the squad and I believe that we are steadily improving." Sweden will provide the holders' first test in Group D on Tuesday and coach Otto Rehhagel's video analysis sessions have given Seitaridis and his colleagues a good idea of their opponents. "The Swedish side consists of good players who are also good athletes. They run until the last minute and never give up. They are a compact team, with a good defence and in Zlatan Ibrahimović, they have a striker who can prove lethal at any given moment. It will be a tough match, both for us and for them. We will try to impose our gameplan and the team that makes the fewer mistakes and keeps maximum concentration will be the winner."
'First match is crucial'
In what appears a recurring mantra for players awaiting their first taste of the action, Seitaridis was keen to stress the benefits of a positive start. "The first match in a tournament is perhaps the most crucial. From a psychological point of view, it's important to start with a victory. It keeps your spirits up and helps you deal with the next matches." Greek morale is high already after their emphatic qualification but Seitaridis warned that this would have no bearing on the tests ahead. "It made us happy to be the team with the most points [31 from 12 matches] in all of Europe. But we should forget that, put it aside, because it has nothing to do with the finals. Now it's a whole different game."
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