Defeat puts Greece on back foot

Greece’s hopes of defending its European soccer title took a severe dent on Tuesday night when the national side lost 2-0 to Sweden in its opening game at Euro 2008 in Austria, but the players promised yesterday that they would try to turn things around. The European champions put on a lackluster performance against the Swedes and went down to two second-half goals. This means that Greece now needs to beat Russia on Saturday to have a good chance of going through to the quarterfinals. The Russians lost 4-1 to Spain in their opening game. «We’re playing our last hand,» said goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis yesterday. «We have our backs against the wall and on Saturday we play our last hand for qualification.» «We will not make any excuses for our performance [Tuesday] but what we can promise is that you will see a different team on Saturday against Russia.» Nikopolidis dismissed suggestions that the Greek players are too old or too slow. Instead, he suggested the problem on Tuesday was with the team’s tactics. »There wasn’t a physical problem with the team,» he said. «The Swedes had read us well. Our basic problem is the way we organized our game.» Captain Angelos Basinas promised that the players and coach Otto Rehhagel would fix what went wrong against Sweden. «Our biggest problem was organizing our game. It was not stamina or speed. We need to change that against Russia,» Basinas said. «You will see a different team on Saturday.» After Tuesday’s game, Rehhagel defended the cautious formation he adopted for the match. «We have to defend strongly before we can score,» he said. «We don’t have the attacking options of teams like Germany. If we had applied different tactics, we might have been 5-0 down at halftime.» Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the 67th minute of Tuesday’s encounter. Petter Hansson bundled in another five minutes later after terrible defending by Greece. On the plus side, there were no serious injuries during the game and only central defender Paraskevas Antzas was forced to miss training yesterday because of a slight knock.