Greek stars set to shine in Prague

The Greek Under-19 national football team will try to repeat last year’s successful run to Europe’s second spot, if not go one higher, as it enters the European Championship today in the Czech Republic. «We have a good team and we are able to have a good run,» said Olympiakos midfielder Yiannis Papadopoulos, the national team’s captain. The top three in the final standings of the tournament will qualify directly for the World Under-19 Championship of 2009. The eight finalists in the annual tournament, organized by UEFA, are split into two groups. Greece is in Group B and will play against the hosts, the Italians and the English. Group A consists of Germany, holders Spain, Bulgaria and Hungary. Spain has won the tournament three times in the last four years. Coach Alexis Alexiou has taken 18 players to Prague with him, including Liverpool goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis. «We will all give 100 percent to lead Greece to more success,» Bouzanis said upon arrival in the Czech capital. Panathinaikos midfielder Sotiris Ninis is the team star. Last year he was voted the tournament’s «Golden Player.» AEK striker Michalis Pavlis was the top scorer in the qualifying stage across all groups with six goals. Nikos Karelis, the 16-year-old Ergotelis player, who tried out with Arsenal earlier this year, trained with the team in Greece, but has not traveled to the Czech Republic. Greece plays its first match against Italy today, then faces the Czech Republic on Thursday and clashes with England on Sunday, July 20. The top two of each group advance to the semifinals of the competition, which concludes on July 26.