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Greece risk World Cup exit

November 16, 2004 20:36 IST

European champions Greece will effectively be eliminated from the World Cup if they fail to beat lowly Kazakhstan in their Group Two qualifier in Athens on Wednesday.

Less than five months on from their unexpected victory at Euro 2004 in Portugal, Greece coach Otto Rehhagel has told his players that only a victory will do after two draws and a defeat in their opening three matches has left them in sixth place in the seven-team group.

Another defeat, almost unthinkable against Kazakhstan, will almost certainly leave Greece too many points behind the leading pack even though they will have six matches to play after Wednesday.

Group Two leaders Ukraine and second-placed Turkey meet in Istanbul while fifth-placed Georgia play fourth-placed Denmark in Tbilisi on a night of 13 World Cup qualifiers in Europe -- mainly involving the smaller countries.

Most of the bigger countries are playing friendlies.

AT STAKE

But points, as well as pride will be at stake in Athens with Rehhagel telling a news conference on Tuesday: "We have to be patient and we need to play a smart attacking game against a strong defensive team. A win is obligatory in this situation."

Rehhagel will decide nearer kickoff time whether to include Traianos Dellas, Stelios Giannakopoulos and Dimitris Papadopoulos as all three are still recovering from minor injuries.

Central defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos has been recalled to the squad and should start if Dellas is unfit while captain Theodoros Zagorakis, who is also expected to start, will become the first Greek player to win 100 international caps.

While Rehhagel is sorting out his best team, Turkey coach Ersun Yanal is not expected to make substantial changes to his side which earned a vital point in their last qualifier, a 1-1 draw with Denmark in Copenhagen, thanks to a second half goal from striker Nihat Kahveci.

The major question Yanal faces is whether to play Ibrahim Uzulmez or Deniz Baris on the left side of defence.

Two players sat out the most recent training sessions, with Hasan Sas injured and doubtful for Wednesday's game, while Emre Belozoglu was receiving physiotherapy for a knock.

GROUP ONE

There are also three matches in the tightly-bunched Group One in which Romania lead with nine points from four matches, followed by Finland (9 from 5), the Netherlands (7 from 3) and the Czech Republic (6 from 3).

The picture is unlikely to be any clearer after Wednesday with Romania, the Netherlands and the Czechs all expected to win, while Finland are not involved, playing a friendly against Italy.

The Dutch should have no trouble adding to their points total when they face Andorra in Barcelona -- although Andorra will have gained some confidence from their first ever World Cup victory against Macedonia last month.

The Czechs should also pick up three points when they visit Macedonia, while leaders Romania should prove too strong for bottom-placed Armenia who have lost all four matches so far.

The spotlight in Group Three focuses on leaders Portugal, who will be desperate not to drop any points to minnows Luxembourg after being held to a 2-2 draw by tiny Liechtenstein last month.

The Portuguese quickly made amends with a 7-1 rout of Russia four days later and the Russians are desperate to make up for that shattering reversal with a victory over improving Estonia.

In Group Four, Israel could join the leading pair Ireland and France on eight points if they win in Cyprus. Serbia & Montenegro and Lithuania will pull away from the Group Seven pack with wins over Belgium and San Marino respectively.

Mike Collett
Source:
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