Greece, Russia fighting to avoid exit

Salzburg, June 13:

Greece are only one match into the European Championship and already close to surrendering

the title they won in 2004. After losing to Sweden 2-0 in their Group D opener, the Greeks need a positive result against Russia in Salzburg on Saturday. And to make things tougher, Russia are in a similar position.

“It is a final,” Russia coach Guus Hiddink said on Friday. “I’m curious to see how our players manage. Not just technically, but also mentally, emotionally to play a final.”

Greece striker Dimitris Salpingidis agreed. “It’s a very important game. If we lose we’re out. Everyone knows that,” he said. “We will do everything possible for victory in the next game.”

A defeat at the Wals-Siezenheim stadium could also end Russia’s chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals and bring to a close Hiddink’s record of reaching the knockout rounds of every international tournament he has coached at.

Russia could go into the match without their top three forwards. Striker Pavel Pogrebnyak has been ruled out of Euro 2008 with a left knee injury and attacking midfielder Andrei Arshavin is suspended for the Greece game. On Thursday, Hiddink said replacement striker Roman Pavlyuchenko had a leg muscle injury and it was unclear if he would be fit for Saturday.

History is not on Greece’s side — the Greeks have only beaten Russia once in their eight previous meetings. Russia have won four times. Greece’s only win came 15 years ago, when they beat Russia 1-0 at home in a World Cup qualifier.

Spain ready for Sweden’s strike pair

NEUSTIFT: While Spain’s main preoccupation ahead of Saturday’s match with Sweden is with strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson, it is also having to respond to unforeseen speculation that its own star player — striker Fernando Torres — is unhappy.

Spain’s defense knows it must keep Ibrahimovic and Larsson on a tight leash to help maintain momentum following a resounding 4-1 win over Russia.

The Spanish attack is rolling after David Villa scored a hat trick — the first-ever for a Spanish player at the European Championship — but Torres is under watch after being substituted in the 54th minute for midfielder Cesc Fabregas.

Villa pointedly ran over to Torres on the bench to celebrate his third goal, and the Spanish media pressed the issue for a second straight day Thursday after coach Luis Aragones had said that the substitution was about tactics and protecting Torres’ health — as well as motivating the Liverpool striker.

Saturday’s matchup is likely to determine who will advance to the quarter-finals after both teams opened Group D with confidence-boosting victories. — AP