Greece goes for victory

Following a 2-0 home defeat against group favorite Spain in its opening Euro 2004 qualifier, Greece will be pushing for at least a draw in its next encounter against Ukraine in Kiev this Saturday. With powerhouse Spain among Group 6’s competition, Greece, realistically, will strive for second place, which assures a second crack at qualifying through playoffs. Armenia, one of the group’s outsiders, may have indirectly assisted Greece’s bid by holding Ukraine – a probable rival for second place – to a draw in their opening-round clash in Yerevan. The group’s fifth competitor, Northern Ireland, had a bye. «The overall mood is very good. We want to prove that we can resist in front of crowds of between 50,000 and 60,000,» Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel told a news conference yesterday ahead of his team’s departure for Kiev, scheduled for this morning. «I’ve spoken to the players and made clear that individual errors at the cost of the entire team must not be made,» he added. Rehhagel has told his squad to push for victory at Kiev’s Olibinski Stadium with a safety guard kept up to avoid losing. «If, during the game’s course, we see that we can’t win, we’ll look at not losing,» said Rehhagel. Despite the national team’s loss to Spain, Rehhagel has not made any changes to his squad. He needed to fend off questions regarding his squad’s nucleus of Panathinaikos players, despite the club’s poor showing so far this season after an impressive run all the way to the Champions League quarterfinals last year. «I don’t see any reason to make changes. But other players, too, are on my agenda for the future,» responded Rehhagel. He said his match strategy would depend on Ukraine’s tactics, as well as the availability of star player Andriy Shevchenko. According to latest reports, the striker has been ruled unfit to play by doctors at his club, AC Milan. In Greece’s camp, Rehhagel needs to consider slight injuries carried by several key players, Panathinaikos’s trio of Giorgos Karagounis, Angelos Bassinas, and Antonis Nikopolidis, and Olympiakos’s Stelios Yiannakopoulos, and Christos Patsatzoglou. All five are expected to be fully fit for Saturday. A total of 16 sides will compete in the Euro 2004 finals; the winners of the qualifying stage’s 10 groups, the five winners of the runner-up playoffs, and hosts Portugal.