Soccer history hangs on a match

Needing no more than a draw to advance to the quarterfinals of the Euro 2004 championship in Portugal, Greece meets Russia tomorrow evening in what could prove to be the finest hour of a national soccer squad until now notorious for its dismal showing in major international tournaments. Even if the depleted team suffers defeat at the hands of the Russians – who lost both their previous matches, against Spain and Portugal, without scoring a single goal – Greece could still limp through, depending on the score of the face-off between the two Iberian squads. Both games start at 9.45 a.m. «Right now, mathematically speaking, we are not yet through,» team captain Theodoros Zagorakis said yesterday. «We are waiting for Sunday, as nothing has been settled. Of course, we have an advantage. But there is a small chance of failure, which we must minimize. It will be a tough game against Russia.» In the tournament’s biggest upset, Greece defeated hosts Portugal during last Saturday’s curtain-raiser, and drew against star-studded Spain on Wednesday. It now shares top place in Group A with Spain. Portugal also stands a chance of qualifying, if it beats its neighbor on Sunday. The Russians have vowed to put up a fight, despite having been already eliminated from the next round. «Those who think that we will just walk around in the third game are mistaken,» coach Georgy Yartsev said on Thursday. «We will fight. We need goals and points at this Euro.» Russian Football Union chief Vyacheslav Koloskov echoed Yartsev yesterday. «We view the match as our last chance to give a good account of ourselves here in Portugal, and I can assure you we’ll do our best,» he said. Greece will play without injured Stelios Yiannakopoulos and suspended Giorgos Karagounis.