Greece, Spain play their final group match

Updated: 22 June 2008 07:08 IST

Spain and Greece go into their final European Championship group game with similar approaches amid very contrasting circumstances.

Greece, Spain play their final group match

NEUSTIFT, Austria:

Spain and Greece go into their final European Championship group game with similar approaches amid very contrasting circumstances.

Spain is looking for a perfect finish to the group stage, while 2004 champion Greece wants to save some pride and avoid a scoreless and pointless exit.

The teams meet in a replay of a group match at Portugal four years ago that helped propel Greece's improbable run to its first major trophy. The stakes are far different now, with Spain through to the quarterfinals after victories over Group D rivals Russia and Sweden. Those teams also meet on Wednesday to determine the last quarterfinalist after both teams beat the Greeks.

Greece is in danger of being the first defending champion to exit the European Championship without scoring.

"There is certainly a motivation for Wednesday's game _ it could be no other way. It's still a big game," striker Nikos Lymberopoulos said. "Our aim is to have a very good performance and to win the game. We must keep our heads up and maintain our humility."

The disappointing defense of the title will be capped by the international retirements of goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis and defender Paraskevas Antzas. Greece's tactics _ playing too defensively against Sweden and then unsuccessfully opening up against Russia _ plus the weight of expectation heaped on the experienced team was too much too carry.

"It's been a tough group for them, but they want to go out with a good taste in their mouth," Spain defender Raul Albiol said. "They'll come out looking to have a good game and to beat us."

Albiol should start alongside Juanito Gutierrez in front of backup goalkeeper Pepe Reina as coach Luis Aragones gives his starting team a chance to rest and recover from injuries. Regular center back Carles Puyol hurt his right foot in the 2-1 win over Sweden, as did midfielder David Silva and substitute Santi Cazorla.

Even though the Spain susbtitutes know it's likely to be their only game, Reina said the team would be up for it.

"We just need to have a good game and show (the coach) that we can be counted on at any moment. We'll be ready," the Liverpool goalkeeper said Wednesday. "I'll go out there motivated to take advantage of the minutes and to win."

The Greeks will not have to deal with strikers David Villa or Fernando Torres because Aragones will probably rest all of his starters save Andres Iniesta before Sunday's quarterfinal date against the Group C runner-up: Romania, Italy or France.

"No matter who they play, the Spaniards' quality is very high," striker Ioannis Amanatidis said. "It won't be an easy game, regardless."

Greece has one victory in nine prior meetings with Spain. But a draw at Euro 2004 was probably the most significant result.

Spain dominated that match at Porto and led through Fernando Morientes' opening goal before Angelos Charisteas' second-half equalizer rallied the eventual champions. They also edged Spain for a quarterfinal spot because they scored one more goal.

The Spanish insist there is no revenge factor.

"Revenge no, this is a different Euro. We'll go out for the victory, but not for revenge against the defending champions," Albiol said. "We want to finish off the group perfectly and ... get a win so we can go out of the group with confidence."

Dani Guiza, who led the Spanish league with 27 goals, is expected to front a five-man midfield run by Cesc Fabregas, who came off the bench for the first two matches.

Injuries will also force Greece coach Otto Rehhagel to make changes. The German is leaning toward giving several players who have not appeared in the tournament a start, including Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Salpingidis.

Striker Fanis Gekas has been ruled out after breaking his cheekbone against Russia, while defenders Giourkas Seitaridis and Vassilis Torossidis are missing with injuries and midfielder Giorgos Karagounis is doubtful.

The only real edge to the matchup may be the appointment of referee Howard Webb. The Englishman has been under pressure _ and even received criticism from Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk _ for giving an injury-time penalty kick to Austria, which was converted for a 1-1 draw.



Topics : Football Greece
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