ATHENS - Greece are treating Friday's Euro
2012 qualifier at home to Croatia as a cup final and are poised
to sharpen their attack by handing striker Fanis Gekas a first
appearance since he quit the national team last year.
The top two in Group F meet in Athens with a point between
them as Croatia coach Slaven Bilic's leaders look for a win to
reach the finals while the hosts must avoid defeat to stay in
the hunt for first place before the last group games on October 11.
"When the draw was made we said that the two games with
Croatia would be the most important and so it has proved,"
Greece coach Fernando Santos told reporters.
"After the 1-1 draw in Croatia we knew it was a very good
result because it meant we kept our destiny in our own hands."
Santos has sprung a few surprises with his squad selection,
bringing back 31-year-old Euro 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas and
Gekas, who retired from international football in September 2010.
Gekas publicly apologised for what he called an "error of
judgment" in a statement he issued on his return to the squad.
The Eintracht Frankfurt striker is expected to spearhead the
attack supported on the flanks by Giorgos Samaras and Dimitris
Salpigidis in a 4-3-3 formation.
Greece, unbeaten in 14 matches since Santos took over from
Otto Rehhagel after the 2010 World Cup, are aiming for nothing
less than three points in their final home match.
"The match against Croatia is like a cup final for us and we
all believe we will win it," defender Socrates Papastathopoulos
said. "I think we'll be in the Euro 2012 finals automatically."
A stubborn defensive display allowed Greece to come away
from Zagreb with a point when the teams met last September.
Neither team can finish below second place in the group,
which at worst would lead to a spot in the qualifying playoffs
for next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine.
"Defeat would not be the end of the world. Whoever happens
to lose this game will still end up second and will get another
chance," Bilic said.
There were no major changes to Croatia's squad from their
last game against Israel on Sept. 6 with the only surprise being
Bilic's decision not to call up forward Ivica Olic who was
deemed unfit following a hip injury sustained in August.
The only key player unavailable for selection is captain
Darijo Srna, who is suspended.
Striker Eduardo skipped Monday's training session due to a
minor injury and Vedran Corluka had a slight ankle problem but
both are expected to have recovered by Friday.
Croatia's final qualifier is at home to Latvia next Tuesday,
while Greece travel to Georgia.
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