Vasilis Daniel, the Greece coach, attributes England's improvement this year to the Zen-like calm of Sven Goran Eriksson. If his premise that a team's performance mirrors the attitude of its manager, then Greece's chances of giving England a run for their money here tonight have greatly improved since last Friday.
Before the catharsis of their victory over Albania in Crete on Saturday night, Daniel was hounded from all corners of the media, having to defend everything from his supposed favouritism of certain players to the reasons Greece had failed to beat Germany. The fact that his job was on the line, that Greece is in fear of being ejected from all international tournaments for alleged financial irregularities involving the government and that three AEK players had boycotted the national team last year as a protest against suspicions of match-fixing, did not exactly provide a balm for his fevered brow.
Yesterday, however, as he took questions at the Athens Holiday Inn, Daniel was poise personified. The Greek media were largely quiet as the former Panathinaikos player was, instead, asked his opinion of all things English. Losing to Eriksson's England would be disappointing; going under to neighbours and political rivals Albania would have incited revolt. "The match against England represents our last chance of qualification," Daniel, 63, said. "England is a very strong team with great personality and right now, because of recent results, there is euphoria in their camp. Our goal is to win but we will have to stay calm and concentrated."
Daniel had criticised England for their poor performances during Euro 2000. "Considering the way England and Germany played during the latter games in that tournament, it was not a surprise they were eliminated at the first stage.Since Sven Goran Eriksson took charge, they have retained the same formation, the 4-4-2 he has always used with his clubs, but he has brought a calmness to the team and his personality was catalytic for the players and supporters." Instead of discussing the termination of his contract, which runs until December, Vasilis was able to reveal that qualification for next summer's World Cup finals would automatically trigger an extension.
Greece are aided by the return of Nikos Machlas, of Ajax, who came off the substitutes' bench to score the winning goal against Albania in Crete on Saturday.Zisis Vrizas, of Perugia, after a three-year absence from international duty, is set to start with Machlas in a new striking partnership. With two players suspended, Vasilis will make four changes to a team that ticks around the midfield general Theo Zagorakis, formerly with Leicester City, and has Newcastle United's Nikos Dabizas as its defensive anchor.Reuse content