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The coaches of both England and Greece expect a tense contest in the first UEFA European Under-19 Championship semi-final with each having good cause to be wary of their opponents in Tallinn.
The teams confirmed their progress to the last four with impressive victories on matchday three, Greece overcoming Portugal 3-2 to claim second place in Group A. England then defeated France 2-1 to overtake their opponents at the top of Group B and set up the encounter at the Lilleküla Stadium.
"I expect a very difficult match," England coach Noel Blake told UEFA.com. "Greece have had two very good encounters against Spain and Portugal and when you get to this level of competition, there's no easy games.
At this stage, anybody can beat anybody and you've got to be on your mettle to get anything. Greece are a very good side, a technical, athletic team, so we have to compete with them in the right way."
Blake's opposite number echoed that view. "We know England will be very strong opponents," Kostas Tsanas told UEFA.com. "Tactically they're excellent, so we respect them a lot, but we will try to play our own game. A semi-final is quite different from the group matches; we have to be patient. The teams know each other very well and that means there will be a lot of suspicion and caution – neither side will take too many risks."
While Blake has a full squad to choose from aside from "the usual bumps and bruises" with Michael Keane back in training after a groin problem that kept him out of the last two matches. Tsanas is without Charis Mavrias following the Panathinaikos FC winger's red card against Portugal. "He's very good player but we had two players [Kostas Stafylidis and Dimitris Kourmpelis] suspended for our first game and coped OK. I think we'll do that again – we have a lot of players who can come in and do a good job."
Results would indicate both teams are coming to the boil at just the right time, and both coaches hope there will be continued improvement in the last four. "I don't think we've played anywhere near what we're capable of; we're 20 to 25% below our capacity," Blake explained. "We need to improve our final ball into the box and we'll have to defend very well from crosses, because that's how Greece have got [most] of their goals at this tournament. The players have grown into the tournament and earned their position in the last four. Along the way we've played some decent football but we want to do better and that's what keeps pushing us on."
Tsanas believes the result and performance against Portugal has given Greece a timely shot in the arm. "
We're pretty satisfied to have qualified but besides all that joy and enthusiasm, we have to be very focused on our next goal. Beating Portugal gave us a big lift. They were one of the favourites for the tournament and it's a real boost for us but that game's gone, it's over. Now we have to be focused on our next target."
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