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Greece relishes underdog role against Russia
By DEREK GATOPOULOS
LEGIONOWO, Poland (AP) Greece players are relishing the role of underdog against Russia in their final group game at Euro 2012 and believe they can pull off an upset on Saturday.
Bottom of Group A after a draw with Poland and a defeat by the Czech Republic, Greece now has to beat group leader Russia to qualify.
It's not a task that fazes the players.
"It's very good to be the outsider and we have to advantage of this," said striker Costas Mitroglou, who played the last 20 minutes against the Czechs, before a training session on Thursday.
"We have to go in strong from the first minute, do what the coach says and, with a bit of luck, we'll get the win."
Greek players have often been inspired by being the outsiders, having stunned the football world eight years ago to win the European Championship.
Like Mitroglou, midfielder Costas Fortounis believes that Greece can turn a difficult situation to their advantage.
"This is a final for us and I think the pressure of this game will make all the boys give their best and we'll get the qualification (for the quarterfinals)," the 19-year-old Fortounis said.
However, Russia was the only team to beat Greece in that 2004 tournament and it defeated them again at Euro 2008.
Greece will also have to cope with two absentees on Saturday.
Central defender Avraam Papadopoulos and first-choice goalkeeper Costas Chalkias will both miss the match due to injury, but valued defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos will return from suspension.
Coach Fernando Santos has publicly complained that his players lost concentration at the start of their first two matches. Greece conceded in the 17th minute against Poland in a tournament opener that ended 1-1, and allowed the Czechs to score twice in the first six minutes before that game ended 2-1.
Greece had trouble containing fast Polish and Czech wingers, while Santos' decision to start with three strikers in each game has so far failed to produce a major threat to opponents.
Russia hammered the Czech Republic 4-1 before then being held 1-1 by co-host Poland - a result that gave Fortounis hope of an upset on Saturday.
"We've seen both of Russia's games. For sure, they weren't as strong in the second game as the first," Fortounis said. "I do think our chances to go through are very good."
Updated June 14, 2012