Kyriakos Papadopoulos insists Greece have nothing to be afraid of against the Czech Republic on Tuesday as he steps up to take his place in a back line decimated by injury and suspension.
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By way of introduction, let us play back what Panagiotis Fyssas, a UEFA EURO 2004 winner and now technical director at the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO), said about Kyriakos Papadopoulos. "He really is a very talented player," Fyssas told UEFA.com. "He has tremendous self-confidence. He works very hard and very few players are as gifted. I'm sure that in the next few years this young man will make history in the senior team."
The young man in question has certainly taken giant strides in his career already, but still has his feet firmly on the ground. With Avraam Papadopoulos now ruled out of UEFA EURO 2012 through injury and Sokratis Papastathopoulos suspended for the match against the Czech Republic, it is certain Fernando Santos will rely on him to galvanise the heart of his wounded defence.
Despite this, and his burgeoning reputation, the 20-year-old takes nothing for granted. "The coach will decide if I am to play the next match," he told UEFA.com. "Personally I hope that he will decide that I do. I am ready, and I want to help my team." On camera, it may be difficult to get a forthright answer from Papadopoulos. On the pitch, it could not be more different.
When Avraam Papadopoulos limped out of the Group A opener against Poland eight minutes before the break, Santos had little hesitation in handing the Olympiacos FC defender's namesake (they are no relation) only his ninth cap. His nerveless performance augurs well for the meeting with the Czechs.
"The coach told me to get on the pitch and help my team because they needed me. That is what I did," said Papadopoulos, offering a characteristically modest appraisal of how he stifled the not insignificant menace of Robert Lewandowski. "I tried to do my best and to help as much as I could. We managed to get a draw, which is a pretty good result, because we could have lost."
Papadopoulos's contribution was not the only reason Greece improved after the break. "The match wasn't going well. We were kind of sluggish for the first 20 minutes. We talked with our coach at the break and he told us that even with ten players we could still change the result," said Papadopoulos. Another substitute, Dimitris Salpingidis, duly cancelled out Lewandowski's first-half opener six minutes after the interval. "From that point on we dominated."
Dominated, perhaps, but Giorgos Karagounis also had a second-half penalty saved as the opportunity to start with a win passed Greece by. Papadopoulos, however, believes another share of the spoils with the Czechs on Tuesday would also suit them. "We mustn't lose. A draw would be OK. Of course, winning would be much better but the most important thing in tournaments like these is to avoid losing. If we are ready and play from the first minute we have nothing to be afraid of."