Greece faces mighty task in the semifinal

Now through to the semifinals at Euro 2004 in Portugal following Friday’s shock 1-0 quarterfinal win against defending champion France, Greece will need to overcome the Czech Republic, one of international soccer’s most formidable sides of late for a place in Sunday’s final. Possessing an undefeated streak now 21 games long in official competition, the Czech Republic, Euro 2004’s only winner of the tournament’s all three group games in the first phase, overpowered and eventually demolished a well-balanced Danish side 3-0 in Sunday’s quarterfinal. Preparing his side for Thursday’s semifinal clash against surprise package Greece, Czech coach Karel Bruckner, following video viewings of Greece’s games in Portugal, described his opponent as a well-organized team backed by a solid defense. «I’ve watched all of Greece’s games. The one against Portugal [tournament opener which Greece won 2-1] was particularly interesting. Greece has an extremely strong defense and is exceptionally organized,» Bruckner said. «But I didn’t need to come here to familiarize myself with the Greek players. I recall many of them from my days as coach of the [Czech Republic’s] Under-21s,» he added. Czech striker Milan Baros, the tournament’s top scorer with five goals in four games, refused to acknowledge his side as Thursday’s favorite. «Greece defeated France by playing good soccer. This team has a good defense, it’s tough, and has scored in all the [tournament’s] games,» said Baros. «It’s going to be a different kind of match. We’ve got to take things one game at a time. We’re not the favorites. I’d say it’s a fifty-fifty situation,» he added. Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi, who plays club-level soccer with Hamburg SV in Germany’s Bundesliga, said yesterday that he was looking forward to his man-to-man clash with Greek striker Angelos Charisteas of the fellow Bundesliga club Werder Bremen. «Angelos and I have played against each other in the Bundesliga. I didn’t let him score, but I did,» said Ujfalusi. He described another man-to-man clash between two giant-sized rivals, Czech striker Jan Koller and Greek defender Traianos Dellas, 2.03 and 1.97 meters in height, respectively, as potentially fascinating. The Czech defender described Greece’s hardworking midfielder Giorgos Karagounis as one of the team’s main strengths. «He does a lot of great work,» said Ujfalusi, while adding that France’s lack of scoring opportunities against the Greeks last Friday should be of concern to the Czech Republic. Difficult job Commenting on Thursday’s opponent, Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, noted that Greece had a German coach and German mentality. «This team does not leave gaps on the field and is lethal on the counterattack. They’re a defensive side and our job’s going to be difficult,» Rosicky said. Greece’s keeper Antonis Nikopolidis, looking ahead to Thursday’s semifinal clash, remained calm and realistic. «If we are to reach the final, we must defeat the Czech Republic. To confront such a team you’ve got to be concerned but not afraid. We’re concerned but not afraid,» Nikopolidis told state radio ERA Spor yesterday. «The Czech Republic is very strong in attack. Koller and [Milan] Baros combine perfectly… We’re going to go into this match to enjoy ourselves. If we succeed in doing this, we’ll be satisfied, regardless of the result,» he added. The Czech Republic’s coach Karel Bruckner, speaking in forthright fashion, backed his team as the semifinal clash’s favorite, without, however, eradicating Greece’s hopes. «The Czech Republic possesses a strong offense. Greece is a team. It is led by a very good coach. It is considerably dangerous on the counterattack. In all honesty, I didn’t expect them to be as strong. Much will depend on who scores first,» Bruckner said. «I think the Czech Republic has a greater say. I’d say the game weights 70 percent in favor of the Czech Republic and 30 percent in favor of Greece.» Tournament officials yesterday selected Italian referee Pierluigi Collina to take charge of Thursday’s semifinal.

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