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SEMIFINAL 2 - Greece vs. Czech Republic

SEMIFINAL 2

Greece vs. Czech Republic


They beat host Portugal, knocked out highly fancied Spain and ended the reign of defending champion France. As the surprise team of Euro 2004, Greece now aims at the Czech Republic with high hopes and little pressure.

Before this championship, the Greeks had never won a match in a major competition. Now they need just two more to cause arguably the biggest upset in European Championship history, eclipsing Denmark's unexpected 1992 triumph and Czechoslovakia's 1976 win over West Germany.

Under German coach Otto Rehhagel, Greece has fused raw ability with iron discipline and solid defending. They will need such qualities against the top scoring Czechs in Thursday's semifinal at Porto's Dragao stadium.

For many years, Greek teams like Panathinaikos and Olympiakos held their own in European club competitions. But, prior to Rehhagel's arrival, the players were unable to transfer this onto the international scene. Rehhagel says the change came when players "obeyed the rules."

Greece made it to Euro 1980 and the 1994 World Cup, only to bow out miserably each time without a win and on the back of some heavy defeats. Now, veterans like goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, defender Nikos Dabizas and midfielder Theodoros Zagorakis have a last shot at glory.

Should they fail, the future is still in good hands.

At 24, striker Angelos Charisteas is making a name for himself. He scored a brilliant headed winner in the 1-0 quarterfinal win over France, has 10 international goals, and won the league and cup double with German side Werder Bremen.

Charisteas is difficult to mark, has an elegant touch and superb heading ability so that the erratic Czech defense will need to watch him closely. France did not, and paid the price.

Rehhagel sums up the qualities of his Greek side as: "will, leadership and energy." But how long can this work against technically superior teams?

The Czechs have talent in abundance, with a red-hot striker in Liverpool's five-goal Milan Baros and one of the world's best midfielders in Pavel Nedved of Juventus.

They are unlikely to underestimate Greece the way France, Portugal and Spain did.

"It will be hard but we will be prepared," said Baros, whose brace in the 3-0 quarterfinal win over Denmark took his national team tally to 21 in 28 matches.

Czech defenders Martin Jiranek and Rene Bolf are likely to miss Thursday's match, meaning coach Karel Bruckner may need to juggle his lineup.

Jiranek picked up a groin injury and Bolf has a left hamstring problem after Sunday's win.

"They could be serious injuries," Bruckner said Monday. "This is not very good."


Posted on Jun 29, 04 | 8:59 am

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