Monday, November 29, 1999

Simple equation for Greece, Nigeria in Group B

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Greece and Nigeria are in the same predicament ahead of their World Cup Group B match on Thursday: lose and they're almost certain of a first-round exit.But the Greeks' position is even more grim.Nigeria only conceded one goal and went close to scoring a late equalizer in an opening loss to Argentina, while a lusterless Greek side fell 2-0 to 2002 World Cup semifinalists South Korea and still has to face Lionel Messi and the Argentine squad in the last group game."We both started with a bad result, and we all realize the importance of this game," Greece striker Franis Gekas said. "First of all we have to play good football, but of course we have to correct our mistakes from the first match."Greece failed to stick to coach Otto Rehhagel's plans against South Korea and conceded a crucial early goal when they failed to clear a free kick, and the team never recovered.Rehhagel, who led Greece to an unexpected European championship title in 2004, said Wednesday the key for his team against Nigeria lies in returning to his defense-first philosophy, which demands the players follow his tactics precisely, denying opponents space and capitalizing on set-piece attacks."We have to make sure that we keep our goal clean. There are some very athletic players in the Nigerian team and we'll have to be prepared for that," Rehhagel said. "Our team will have to show that it still has a chance to advance and we'll have to fight for it with passion."Greece is still searching for its first World Cup goal, having conceded 10 goals and failing to score in three losses in its only other trip to the finals in 1994, and needs to find the back of the net in South Africa to maintain hopes of advancing.Still, Rehhagel said he has no intention of mixing things up to push for that first goal."We have played our way and have been successful," he said. "We want to attack the goal of our opponent, but when our opponent is better than us that can also create difficulties."If Nigeria's opening performance against Argentina is any indication, Greece has a rough road ahead. The Africans played well against Diego Maradona's talented squad, and now - like Greece - can't afford to lose."We have still got a lot to show at this tournament," midfielder Peter Odemwingie said. "We know only three points will give us a chance at the next round. We are going all out knowing a victory is what we need."Nigeria is not quite the dynamic team which lived up to its nickname of the "Super Eagles" in the 1990s, but coach Lars Lagerback's squad in South Africa has plenty of talent, even without injured Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel.Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was impressive against Argentina, making a number of solid saves to hold Messi and Co. to just one goal in a performance that won him the player of the match award.Everton striker Yakubu Ayegbeni and Wolfsburg forward Obafemi Martins provide strength and speed up front, while Odemwingie and Chinedu Obasi add pace and flare from the wings. Lagerback also has veteran striker Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Obinna at his disposal.The Nigeria manager said he was pleased with his team's performance against Argentina, although the team has focused in training on "being a little bit sharper in the attacking part of the game."Lagerback, who led his native Sweden to the World Cup in 2002 and 2006 and only took over the Nigerian national team in February, also suggested he might tinker with his lineup against Greece, but refused to say how.The Greece backline should get a boost with the return of Bologna defender Vangelis Moras, who is fit after being sidelined with a lingering groin injury.But the speed of the Nigerians could cause problems for Greece, which has an aging squad known more for its tactical prowess than its pace."If they are going to be very defensive you always know it's going to be a very hard game," Odemwingie said. "I hope, of course, for a fast goal. In the first 30 minutes we should open the scoring and I think they will have to open up and it will be an interesting game for everyone to watch."

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