SPORTS

Greece goes to Copenhagen for ‘most crucial test of all’

Greece’s inconsistent World Cup qualifying campaign, now just over a year long, faces a crucial test this Saturday in Copenhagen, where the European champion squad will travel needing victory against the formidable Danes to keep alive their hopes of playing at the finals in Germany next summer. Ukraine has already secured Group 2’s top spot for the nation’s first ever World Cup finals appearance. But the chase is on for the second spot, which leads to playoffs for six runners-up in the European zone’s eight groups. The two runners-up with the best records advance automatically. In Group 2, Turkey lies second with 20 points from 11 games. Greece is third with two points less, a game in hand, and two games to go. Denmark, still in contention for second spot, is placed fourth with 16 points from 10 games. Should Turkey win its remaining qualifier, against Albania in Tirana on October 12, Denmark stands no chance of second place, even if it defeats Greece on Saturday. This combination of results would assure Turkey second spot. But, if Greece manages to emerge victorious from Saturday’s battle in Copenhagen, and then defeats lowly Georgia in its final qualifier in Athens four days later, second spot would be secured. Coach Otto Rehhagel, who led his team to last year’s astonishing Euro triumph largely on the strength of an invincible defense, has called up seven forwards. New to the Greek squad are goalkeeper Stefanos Kotsolis of Larissa and midfielder Vangelis Mantzios of Panathinaikos, while defender Trainos Dellas of AEK Athens and forward Fanis Gekas of Panathinaikos return to the squad. The 29-year-old defender was recently signed by AEK Athens from AS Roma, and has recovered from injury. Mantzios, 22, said he was thrilled to be selected. «I didn’t expect this… the game against Denmark will be tough,» Mantzios said. «But we can fight with the credentials we have and get the result.» Takis Fyssas, who plays for Scottish league leader Hearts, was named in the squad despite a knee injury that has made him a doubtful starter for his club this weekend. «We need to go to Copenhagen and win. It’s a make-or-break game. All the games of this qualifying campaign were crucial, but this one’s the most crucial of all,» Fyssas said. Meanwhile, match tickets for Greece’s final game against Georgia, priced between 20 and 30 euros, are currently on sale at three purchase points around the capital – the Olympic Stadium, Karaiskaki Stadium, and the Korai Street box office in downtown Athens, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In other group action, England, Spain and France, three of the hottest tips to cruise into the World Cup finals, face nerve-shredding tests if their golden dreams are not to descend into nightmares. England face Austria and Poland in their last two Group 6 qualifiers at Old Trafford knowing they must win both matches to clinch the group. Spain, currently second in Group 7 and two points behind leaders Serbia-Montenegro, go to Belgium on Saturday before closing their qualifying campaign at lowly San Marino. France lies second behind Switzerland on goal difference, but Israel, a point further back, and Ireland, three points off the pace after losing 1-0 to France in Dublin last month, are all capable of taking top spot. The Swiss host France in Berne on Saturday. (Kathimerini, AFP, AP)