SPORTS

Win needed in Kazakhstan

The national team’s lead-up to today’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan in Almaty has rolled smoothly. The national team has had to persevere with bad weather in this former Soviet state, but the encounter’s nature leaves no room for excuses. As group play in qualifying competition nears its end, Greece lies third in the European zone’s Group 2. Settled in the top spot with an insurmountable lead, Ukraine is already sure of its first ever World Cup finals appearance. Three teams – Turkey, Greece, and Denmark – will do battle for second place, which provides a second chance at qualifying. Turkey lies second, while Greece and Denmark, both with a game less, are placed two and four points behind, respectively. An away win for the national team this afternoon – 4 p.m. Greek time – against Kazakhstan, last in the group and without a point, will give Greece second place with two rounds remaining. But a tough away task, against the dangerous and capable Danes, awaits the national team in its next game, on October 8, before the final challenge at home, four days later, against the weaker – theoretically – Georgians. But, if Greece is to keep hoping, it needs victory today. «We’re here for the three points and are not interested in anything other than how we’re going to achieve victory,» said defender Michalis Kapsis. «The conditions are tough, but we’ll overcome them. We need to beat Kazakhstan and then find out the result of the Ukraine-Turkey game to know what we need to do in Denmark,» the Olympiakos defender said. Ukraine greets Turkey also today. Should Turkey lose to the group leader and Greece win in Kazakhstan, Greece would seal second place with a home win against Georgia in the final round, irrespective of what it does in Denmark. It should be a strange experience today for Greece’s Kazakhstan-born Dimitris Papadopoulos, who had not been back to his place of birth for 16 years. Despite the excitement of fans in Almaty, many of whom wanted their shots taken with the expatriate, Papadopoulos appears focused on his team’s mission. «It’s really special for me to be back in the country where I was born. I’m back after 16 years but don’t remember much, just some images, like the house where I lived,» said the 23-year-old striker. «The prediction I can make is that we will win,» he remarked laconically when asked to predict the result of today’s encounter. Judging by the national team’s training session yesterday, coach Otto Rehhagel appears to be contemplating an attacking system, with three strikers up front, for this afternoon’s match. Also yesterday, Greece’s Under-21 squad beat Kazakhstan 2-1 away in a Euro qualifier.