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Greece devastated but not out after home defeat by Ukraine

European champions Greece were licking their wounds yesterday after a shock 1-0 home defeat by Ukraine severely dented their World Cup qualifying hopes. Greece have now dropped to third place, a point behind Turkey and eight adrift of European zone Group 2 leaders Ukraine, who are one win away from automatic qualification. Only a week ago the Greeks had a two-point lead over Turkey and control of second spot, which leads to a playoff with a runner-up from one of the other groups to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. But Greece have lost considerable ground following a draw in Istanbul six days ago and Wednesday night’s defeat, their first at home for nearly three years. The Greeks dominated the match and wasted chances to score. Greece could have scored at least four goals but neither Yannis Goumas nor Stelios Giannakopoulos could push the ball into the net from close range. «It was so unlucky,» defender Goumas said. «I hesitated for a split second thinking I was offside and then only managed to shoot at the keeper.» Greece did put the ball into the net twice but Giannakopoulos and Angelos Haristeas were ruled offside. «We had many chances, especially in the first half but we just could not score a goal,» captain Theodoros Zagorakis told reporters. «This defeat was not the best thing that could happen to us but it would be disastrous to give up now… We don’t feel discouraged since we have three more matches ahead of us. We still have a chance for second place. We meant to bring joy to our fans tonight but we didn’t make it.» Zagorakis said the deciding match would be against Denmark in October. «This is the crucial game against a team which I consider better than both Ukraine and Turkey,» Zagorakis said. Angelos Basinas, one of the Greek team’s top performers in midfield and defense against Ukraine, said Greece could still clinch second spot. «If you look at the schedule you will see we’re still in the game,» he said. Coach Otto Rehhagel said his team’s defense was good but the surprise winners of last year’s European Championship were struggling for goals. «We played well from the beginning and created many opportunities, but one of our problems is that we don’t score goals easily,» Rehhagel said after the match with Ukraine, the first loss at home for the Greeks in 33 months. Greece play Kazakhstan and Denmark away before completing their campaign against Georgia in Athens in October. Despite Wednesday night’s shock loss, Rehhagel remained defiant. «As long as there are possibilities, we will continue to hope… Our next match is with Kazakhstan in September and I hope we have a full team then,» said Rehhagel, refering to the injuries of midfielder Georgos Karagounis and defender Michail Kapsis during the Ukraine match that hampered Greece’s efforts. Star defender Traianos Dellas, a key figure in Greece’s Euro 2004 triumph, was also missing against Ukraine due to injury. The substitutions for Karagounis and Kapsis did not add more offensive power as Rehhagel saved his last substitution to the end for fear of another injury. «Congratulations to my team,» Ukraine coach Oleg Blochin said. «It was a big victory and puts us 99.9 percent into the World Cup finals. Greece played worthy soccer, but now must fight for second place. I hope they make it.» Added Ukraine star Andriy Shevchenko: «Greece, Denmark and Turkey will battle out for second place in the group while we need only a few points to qualify directly. In the beginning we did not play well but improved greatly in the second half at all levels.» (Reuters, AFP)