Greece, Russia fight to avoid exit

Updated: 16 June 2008 09:46 IST

Greece is only one match into the European Championship and already close to surrendering the title it won four years ago.

SALZBURG, Austria:

Greece is only one match into the European Championship and already close to surrendering the title it won four years ago. After losing to Sweden 2-0 in its Group D opener, the Greeks need a positive result against Russia in Salzburg on Saturday.

And to make things tougher, Russia is in a similar position.

"It is a final," Russia coach Guus Hiddink said Friday. "I'm curious to see how our players manage. Not just technically, but also mentally, emotionally to play a final."

Greece striker Dimitris Salpingidis agreed.

"It's a very important game. If we lose we're out. Everyone knows that," he said. "We will do everything possible for victory in the next game."

A defeat at the Wals-Siezenheim stadium could also end Russia's chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals and bring to a close Hiddink's record of reaching the knockout rounds of every international tournament he has coached at.

Russia could go into the match without his top three forwards. Striker Pavel Pogrebnyak has been ruled out of Euro 2008 with a left knee injury and attacking midfielder Andrei Arshavin is suspended for the Greece game. On Thursday, Hiddink said replacement striker Roman Pavlyuchenko had a leg muscle injury and it was unclear if he would be fit for Saturday.

Hiddink said Pavlyuchenko had treatment Friday and would test the injury at training later in the day. The Russia coach conceded his team is missing Arshavin, who had a hand in both Zenit St. Petersburg goals when the club beat Rangers in the UEFA Cup final.

"In order to implement a good concept you need a number of players helping. He is one of those players and obviously he will be sorely missed," Hiddink said. "But I told my very young team we will not use that as an excuse."

Greece appeared content to play for a draw and offered virtually nothing in attack against Sweden, with coach Otto Rehhagel widely criticized for fielding a lineup that included five defenders and seven players from the team that won Euro 2004. Hiddink, meanwhile, has called his players naive and lambasted them for handing Spain a 4-1 win with basic errors.

Now, Hiddink seems to be trying to goad Greece into playing a more attacking style on Saturday.

"I think as European champion you should take a little bit more initiative," Hiddink said. "But OK, that's their way of playing, we have to deal with that."

Russia didn't deal with that style of play against Spain, attacking early and then giving the ball away too easily to set up Spanish counterattacks.

"We had wallets in our pockets and we gave them to the Spanish team _ 'Take it please,'" Hiddink said. "It was naive. We were not outplayed, we gave it away."

Russia has discussed the errors in meetings and training since the defeat, but is unlikely to radically change its attacking style.

"I like to see my team playing in an attractive but also very smart way _ more smart than the other day," Hiddink said.

Russia might get its wish for a Greece team prepared to take risks and attack.

"We only had two chances in the whole 90 minutes ... It's out of the question to talk about qualifying from the group if we play this way," attacking midfielder Yiannis Amanatidis said. "The Russia game will be like a cup final for us. We have to fix our mistakes and play a more attacking game."

Russia defender Roman Shirokov, who was left badly exposed by his midfield and could do little to prevent David Villa scoring the first European Championship hat trick since 2000, also thinks Russia will have an easier game if Greece attacks.

"I don't think the defensive style of Greece will be good for Russia," he said. "It is much better if the opponent is open _ then we can go forward with the ball. I would prefer them to play an open game. It is very hard to get through Greece's defensive lines."

Russia was the only team to beat Greece four years ago, but Shirokov said that result offered no clues or confidence for Saturday's encounter.

"It doesn't mean anything. I don't know about Greece, but the Russian team is completely different," he said.

History is not on Greece's side _ the Greeks have only beaten Russia once in their eight previous meetings. Russia has won four times. Greece's only win came 15 years ago, when they beat Russia 1-0 at home in a World Cup qualifier.

Central defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos hopes the defeat by Sweden would give Greece the same spur it got after a shock 4-1 home defeat to Turkey in March last year.

"After we lost to Turkey, we didn't lose a game and we qualified for the European Championship. We wanted a win (against the Swedes) and it would have given us a good start, but that didn't happen," he said. "We're not stressed but we know how important the game is. That's all."

Topics : Football Spain Turkey Germany
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