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Struggling France wary of relaxed Greece
June 25, 2004 03:38 IST
Champions France and surprise package Greece will be subject to very different expectations when they meet in their Euro 2004 football championship quarter-final on Friday.
France are still on track to become the first nation to retain the European title after surviving a tricky first phase along with runners-up England from Group B.
The Greeks, though, have reached the last eight of a major tournament for the first time after finishing second to hosts Portugal but ahead of Spain on goal difference in Group A.
If France went out now it would go down like a lead balloon in a country that badly needs to restore its pride after the shock first-round exit in the 2002 World Cup.
A semi-final place for Greece, however, would be beyond the wildest dreams of Otto Rehhagel's team and their supporters.
Greece took part in the 1980 European Championship and the 1994 World Cup and were twice knocked out in the first round.
"We have already won everything we could have dreamed of. We don't have anything to lose now," said the shrewd Rehhagel.
Since Greece beat hosts Portugal 2-1 in the opening match, the German has come up with new ideas to motivate his players and now they are bidding to take the scalp of the champions.
That is not a prospect the French are ready to accept.
"We came here to win the title," said coach Jacques Santini. "We played three matches and I hope there are three more to go."
The odds clearly favour France, who have never lost to Greece in their six previous meetings although Santini gives short shrift to such statistics.
The France coach said once again that his players are well and there are no major problems but despite Santini's confidence his team's form is far from that of the side who won the trophy four years ago beating Italy with a golden goal in the final.
They current edition have conceded four goals in three matches and have often looked clumsy in front of goal.
"I must admit there are things which could be improved in this part of our game," said Santini. "We're going to work this out. I'm confident. We're getting better in every game."
On the injury front Willy Sagnol's broken arm has ruled him out of the tournament and his replacement William Gallas is nursing a twisted ankle. If he is not fit in time, the French coach will have to reshuffle his backline again.
In midfield, Patrick Vieira has strained a thigh muscle and could make way for Benoit Pedretti while striker Louis Saha is almost certain to replace the disappointing David Trezeguet.
Rehhagel is expected to revert to his favourite 4-4-2 formation after playing three forwards in the 2-1 defeat to Russia on Sunday.
Striker Zisis Vryzas is suspended and will most likely be replaced by the experienced Demis Nikolaidis instead of the younger Dimitrios Papadopoulos who started against Russia.
Midfielder Giorgos Karagounis will be back after a one-match ban to add some much-needed steel and pace in midfield.
"We have to control the ball through the midfield to set the game's pace," says Rehhagel. "We didn't do it against Russia and that's why we found ourselves stuck in our half all the time."
Midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos is still recovering from a calf injury and is not fully fit but he is eager to play.
Greece (4-4-2): 1-Antonis Nikopolidis; 2-Yourkas Seitaridis, 19-Michalis Kapsis, 5-Traianos Dellas, 14-Takis Fyssas; 20-Giorgos Karagounis, 21-Costas Katsouranis, 7-Theodoros Zagorakis, 6-Angelos Basinas; 9-Angelos Haristeas, 11-Demis Nikolaidis.
France (4-4-2): 16-Fabien Barthez, 5-William Gallas; 15-Lilian Thuram, 13-Mikael Silvestre, 3-Bixente Lizarazu; 18-Benoit Pedretti, 6-Claude Makelele, 7-Robert Pires, 10-Zinedine Zidane; 12-Thierry Henry, 9-Louis Saha.
Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden)
Linemen: Kenneth Petersson and Peter Elstrom (Sweden)