Turkiye, Greece Focus on Football, Not Politics
ATHENS, March 22 (Reuters) - The coaches of joint Euro Group C leaders Greece and Turkiye have avoided pep talks that include politics ahead of the arch-rivals' clash on Saturday in a bid to keep players focused on the task at hand: victory.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel and his Turkish counterpart Fatih Terim have carefully sidestepped sensitive issues that divide the two nations off the pitch, knowing all too well that Saturday's clash could determine who will gain a major advantage for qualification to the 2008 tournament.
Both teams have a maximum haul of nine points from their opening three games with Turkiye boasting a goal difference of 8-0 and Greece, the reigning European champions, 6-0.
Greece then face Malta on Wednesday while Turkiye face Norway, who are currently third.
Terim wants his men just to concentrate on the game, not on the ancient, often acrimonious rivalry between the two nations.
'If we get rid of the notion of this game being some kind of national cause, then we'll decrease the pressure on the players themselves,' Terim said this week.
'If they go in with the national issues in mind then they will be vulnerable,' he added.
'We have been preparing for this game for the past five months,' defender Takis Fyssas said.
'This is a crucial game and we are aware that if we beat Turkiye then we have taken a major step towards qualification.'
Yourkas Seitaridis said a win against Turkiye at this stage would essentially mean qualification.
'If we win this match then we can say with almost certainty that we are through,' the defender said.
Greece will have the defensive partnership of Traianos Dellas and Michalis Kapsis back in the squad after a series of injuries had left them out in past matches.
Rehhagel will also have seven strikers at his disposal, all fit including Angelos Haristeas who overcame a muscle injury.
Fanis Gekas, who is joint goalscoring leader in the German Bundesliga, is expected to start in the sold-out match in front of 33,000 Greek fans.
But Terim has a number of injury worries - the latest casualty being Besiktas defender Ibrahim Toraman, who has been pulled out of the squad after suffering a muscle strain. Young stars Nuri Sahin and Arda Turan had already been ruled out.
Zenit St Petersburg striker Fatih Tekke is training separately from the squad as he is also recovering from a muscle strain.
In-form Galatasaray defender Emre Asik is expected to earn a place in the starting line-up.
Terim has already said he will pick goalkeeper Volkan Demirel, who is out of favour at Fenerbahce because of a dip in form.
Greece: Antonis Nikopolidis; Yourkas Seitaridis, Traianos Dellas, Sotiris Kyrgiakos, Takis Fyssas; Kostas Katsouranis, Angelos Basinas, Giorgos Karagounis, Stelios Giannakopoulos; Fanis Gekas, Yorgos Samaras.
Turkiye: Volkan Demirel; Emre Asik, Ibrahim Uzulmez, Gokhan Zan, Servet Cetin; Mehmet Aurelio, Gokdeniz Karadeniz, Tumer Metin, Tugay Kerimoglu, Tuncay Sanli; Hakan Sukur.
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)