Greece hopes to narrow the gap
Greece will host Ukraine in Athens tomorrow night, hoping victory against the group leaders will boost their slim chances of automatic qualification to next year’s World Cup finals in Germany. The European champions dropped two points in their 0-0 draw against Turkey on Saturday, allowing Ukraine, who beat Kazakhstan 2-0, to open up a five-point lead in the European zone Group 2. «Realistically, we have only the second spot in our sights,» midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos told reporters. «But if we can turn the five points into just a two-point lead with victory over Ukraine, then you never know what can happen in the next games.» Midfielder Giorgos Karagounis said the top spot was still a possibility. «There are still four games left and everything is possible, including first place in our group. It’s not over yet,» he said during a break in training yesterday. Greece is second on 15 points, five behind Ukraine. Turkey is third on 13. Captain Theodoros Zagorakis will be back on the squad after having served a one-match suspension but the Greeks will be without Costas Katsouranis, who was outstanding in his defensive duties against Turkey, and injured striker Yiannis Amanatidis. Greece will also be without its tall central defender Traianos Dellas, who is still recovering from surgery following a back injury. But Greece coach Otto Rehhagel did not seem to be worried about holes in his defense. «Zagorakis is back,» he said when asked about how he expected to change his defensive plans, «that’s the important thing for this match.» Ukraine, in control of the group after its win over Kazakhstan, is hoping for a win in Athens. «Ukraine is not afraid and will play to win and show Greece what we are capable of,» national team spokesman Ihor Miroshnichenko told Reuters. Ukraine will miss injured Vyacheslav Svidersky and Oleg Shelayev but its federation president said the mood in the camp was high. «I think our team is gaining in confidence with every game,» Hryhory Surkis said in an interview on sports website www.champion.com.ua. Probable teams: Greece: Antonis Nikopolidis, Yourkas Seitaridis, Yiannis Gounmas, Michalis Kapsis, Takis Fyssas, Angelos Basinas, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Giorgos Karagounis, Theodoros Zagorakis, Angelos Charisteas, Zisis Vryzas. Ukraine: Olexander Shovkovsky; Sergei Fedorov, Andriy Mesmachny, Volodymyr Yezersky, Andrei Gusin, Anatoly Timoshchyuk, Ruslan Rotan, Oleg Gusev, Andriy Shechenko, Andriy Voronin, Andriy Vorobei.