WROCLAW, Poland (AFP) –
Greece can take a giant step towards reaching the last eight if they beat the Czechs, who they beat in the Euro 2004 semi-finals on their way to lifting the trophy, and all but consign their opponents to an early return home in Tuesday’s Euro 2012 Group A clash.
The Greeks showed great resolve to come from behind and draw 1-1 with co-hosts Poland in their opening match while the Czechs suffered a 4-1 hammering in their opening match against Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia.
Dimitris Salpingidis Greece’s goalscoring hero in the Poland game is likely to be rewarded by starting after he was brought on at the beginning of the second-half last Friday and got the Greeks back in the game when they were trailing 1-0.
And the player, said to be the target of a number of major European clubs, said Greece will need more of the same fighting spirit they showed against Poland to keep alive their hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals.
“Both of our upcoming games are difficult, Russia and against the Czech Republic. We will try to do our best and if we manage to qualify, we will all be very happy,” said Salpingidis.
Victory in itself would not guarantee the Greeks a place in the last eight — even if group leaders Russia defeat Poland in Warsaw in Tuesday’s other match — but it would end Czech hopes of going beyond the group stage.
Salpingidis and Greece’s never-say-die attitude is reminiscent of their style at Euro 2004, when they effectively ground their more flamboyant opponents into submission.
But it has been strengthened by a desire to deliver some much-needed joy to their hard-pressed compatriots back home, who are wilting under horrendous financial hardship.
The Greeks will be without their first-choice central defensive pairing of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who is suspended after his harsh sending-off in the Poland match, and Avraam Papadopoulos, who has torn cruciate ligaments.
Midfielder Giorgos Fotakis is also ruled out, after limping away from training on Sunday.
But, whilst the lively Czech attack will be hoping to exploit defensive weaknesses, the Greek forwards, too, will be looking to expose their opponents’ defensive failings, which were brutally exposed by the Russians.
In some quarters, the Greeks were criticised for letting three points slip from their grasp, as captain Giorgos Karagounis had a penalty saved.
Experienced striker Giorgos Samaras, though, said such is the spirit in the camp that the roof could cave in and they would still summon up the spirit to dig themselves out.
“We never give up and because we never give up, we don’t like to lose games. And that’s something you cannot buy or find. It’s all about the mentality in the dressing room,” said the Celtic striker.
Fighting spirit is all very well when you are down but Greece’s Portuguese coach Fernando Santos says that shouldn’t be needed if his side get off to the punchy start that was missing from their display on Friday.
“I will talk to my players and see if they know what went wrong and why they couldn’t play as we had planned,” said Santos, who replaced veteran German and Euro 2004 hero Otto Rehhagel after the first round exit at the 2010 World Cup finals.
“I’ve written all the mistakes they made on a big board, under the heading ‘What we should avoid’.”
The Czechs have cautioned that not too much should be read into the Russian defeat, even though the team was savaged by the press back home.
The Blesk tabloid, though, said all was not lost and “Two wins mean we’ll advance — and Czechs can work hard when they’re in trouble”.