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Holders Greece set sights on Swedish challenge

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Holders Greece set sights on Swedish challenge
10:33 CEST+02:00
Greece were the unlikeliest of Euro winners four years ago and to many people they would be an even unlikelier victor this time round as they set out on their bid to retain the title with an opening Group D match against Sweden.

One shouldn't expect much difference in their style as veteran German coach Otto Rehhagel is not one for shedding a winning formula and with the Greeks lacking depth in terms of creative talent, they will try and grind their opponents down and hit them on the counterattack.

Rehhagel, dubbed 'King Otto' for his achievements as coach or 'Rehhakles' as a play on the name of mythical Greek hero Heracles, is adamant that his squad must forget they are European champions - 11 of the heroes of 2004 remain in the group.

One of those Traianos Dellas, Rehhagel's defensive rock, concurs.

"The memories from 2004 are fantastic, but we must leave them behind us and look to the future," he said.

Whilst their warm-up results were not exactly eyecatching, a 0-0 draw against minnows Armenia and a 3-2 defeat by Hungary, hardly these days the 'Magnificent Magyars' of the 1950's, the players at least in public believe that they can repeat their remarkable success of 2004.

For captain Angelos Basinas, however, this is going to be a much tougher tournament.

"Before, nobody could have imagined that such a small country would go so far in the competition but now people expect more," said the 32-year-old.

Defender Nikos Spyropoulos admitted the match with Armenia had not been their finest moment but said against Sweden it would be a different matter.

"The stress is a positive thing in such situations," he said.

"The match with Armenia was not one of our best. We did not play well, but we will be ready for Sweden. We know them well, but I believe the outcome of the match will depend on how well we play."

For their veteran goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis - nicknamed 'Clooney' because of his likeness to the Hollywood hearthrob George - there is nothing to be worried about.

"We are not under pressure, we have come to give the best of ourselves," said Nikopolidis.

However, there is a slight cloud hanging over them in the shape of playmaker Georgios Karagounis, who has been struggling with a knee problem but has declared that he believes he will be fit.

The Swedes, who have like the Dutch and Spanish flattered to deceive at major tournaments, have a strong looking squad with Juventus-bound Olof Mellberg at the back and the battle hardened strike partnership of veteran Henrik Larsson and fiery Inter Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

However, Ibrahimovic, who is seeking to end an international scoring drought dating back to October 2005, is not certain if he will be able to play all 90 minutes and 36-year-old Larsson has not played at this level since the 2006 World Cup finals - which left a sour taste in his mouth as they went out to hosts Germany and he missed a penalty.

"It is going to be a very physical match with the Greeks and I don't know whether 'Ibra' and Tobias Linderoth will be able to play for 90 minutes at this level," admitted coach Lars Lagerback.

For fullback Mikael Nilsson, who is likely to have to play in an unfamiliar role of leftback instead of rightback because Erik Edman is injured, there is little difference between the two sides.

"Our style is similar, very physical in defence and relying on the counter attack. In terms of the quality of the squads, I think we are evenly matched, so Tuesday is very much a 50-50 match," said Nilsson, who will be renewing acquaintance with several of his Panathinaikos team-mates.

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