Battle of the youngsters

ISTANBUL – In a commanding position following a 3-0 win at home last Friday, the national Under-23’s soccer team will be going into tonight’s return leg against Turkey feeling confident about a berth at next year’s European finals. It will be suicide if we are eliminated, said the team’s coach, Andreas Michalopoulos, ahead of tonight’s match to be played in Kocareli, not far from Istanbul. The two sides clashed in Ioannina, northwestern Greece, for the first leg. In the first leg, played at Ioannina on Friday, the Greeks turned a slim 1-0 advantage into a convincing victory during the last two minutes. Despite fears of a crowd hostile to the Turkish team, the local fans behaved, to the relief of the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO). Despite the extent of their first-leg victory, Greece’s players are maintaining a level-headed approach to tonight’s game. Yiannis Amanatidis, one of the team’s star players, said the home crowd, expected to reach 15,000 fans, would bolster the Greek team during the game. If anything, it will only fill us with strength, said the 20-year-old, signed with German second-division side Greuther Furth. But the Greek-Turkish Under-23s soccer clash is unlikely to be the main sporting event in the neighboring country over the next couple of days. Turkey’s senior team should steal the show tomorrow when it goes into battle against Austria for a place at next year’s World Cup finals. Turkey, which has Austria up against the wall following a 1-0 away win in the first leg, will now play the return leg at home before 25,000 home fans at Galatasaray. Match tickets have already sold out. Tonight’s Under-23s clash comes just days ahead of an expected agreement by the respective Greek and Turkish soccer federations to make a a joint bid for Euro 2008. EPO officials plan to travel to Istanbul this Friday to sign an agreement with their Turkish counterparts before their joint bid is submitted to UEFA, the sport’s European governing body, next Monday.

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