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Greeks play down training ground bust-up ahead of Japan clash

Greece's national soccer team players attend a training session at the Dunas Arena soccer stadium in Natal June 18.

By Nick Mulvenney

Greece played down a training ground bust-up between two players on Wednesday, saying they were "200 percent" focused on getting their World Cup campaign back on track with victory over Japan.

Defenders Yannis Maniatis and Giorgos Tzavellas had to be separated by captain Giorgos Karagounis on Tuesday after clashing as the Greeks prepared for their Group C match.

It was a distraction they could ill-afford with their hopes of advancing in the tournament hanging by a thread after their usually miserly defense was breached three times in a 3-0 opening defeat by Colombia in Belo Horizonte.

The Greek FA issued a statement saying a "heated moment" - which Greek media said had its source in the bad blood between their clubs PAOK and Olympiakos - had been "blown completely out of proportion".

"As far as I'm concerned there is no issue or problem," defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos told a news conference at the Dunas arena on Wednesday.

"Whatever has happened it won't affect tomorrow's game. What happened was minor. It was trivia. Such instances are sometimes good for the press but that's all."

Coach Fernando Santos refused to discuss the incident or the likely make-up of his team and instead wanted to talk about the squad's mission to make the last 16 at a World Cup for the first time.

"The issue is we want to make history tomorrow," the Portuguese told reporters. "As a team we must focus on our game and our opponent.

"We want to begin the match wanting to win. We will have two teams with the same goal. Who will or will not start are minor details compared to what happens on the pitch."

The former European champions have won one of seven matches in three World Cup campaigns, scoring two goals in the process.

Right back Vassilis Torosidis, who scored the winner in his country's only victory against Nigeria four years ago, said they would take goals any way they came.

"The fact is tomorrow we have to win with an own goal or a goal," he said. "The important thing is we win. Then we will have our fortunes in our own hands.

"We are not stressed. Football in the World Cup is a celebration and a party and that is how we will play."

Greece looked bright going forward at times against Colombia but the big surprise was the fragility of a defense that had conceded only four goals in 10 qualifying matches for Brazil.

"I don't know if we need to make any changes," said Santos. "I'm not convinced of that right now. They might happen. They might not happen.

"Against Colombia there was a lack of concentration, that was the problem.

"If we keep our level of focus, of concentration, of what the Greeks are used to seeing, there won't be any problems."

Papastathopoulos said the team would reserve their aggression for their struggle to beat the Asian champions, who also lost their opening match against Ivory Coast.

"We will fight on the pitch for Greece, that is why we are here," he said.

"Every player will play at 200 percent so we can leave the pitch with three points." [Reuters]

ekathimerini.com , Thursday June 19, 2014 (10:57)  
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