Gillespie given the captaincy to mark 50th cap

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The Independent Football

Keith Gillespie will captain Northern Ireland for the first time today when he wins his 50th cap in the Euro 2004 qualifier against Greece in Athens.

The Leicester City winger, who has recovered from an ankle injury, made his debut in the defeat by Portugal nine years ago. He said: "Playing for your country on one occasion is obviously a big thing, so to reach 50 is a great honour for me. To captain the team is extra special."

Gillespie joined the squad in a training session yesterday morning after making his comeback for Leicester last Saturday. "The ankle is fine," he said.

"My recovery took a little bit longer than I thought. I started training last week then got 15 minutes against Fulham. Everything has gone to plan in the last few days."

Northern Ireland, who have failed to score in their last 12 matches and gone 1,152 minutes without a goal, will be without Damien Johnson, who is suspended, as they look to salvage some pride from their poor campaign.

They have also lost the Norwich City duo Phil Mulryne and Paul McVeigh and the Cheltenham Town player Grant McCann because of injury.

Greece, needing a victory against the Irish to qualify directly, will include the defender Michalis Kapsis in their line-up despite a last-minute scare due to an injury he picked up during training. Their German coach, Otto Rehhagel, has kept the same squad that has won a record five European qualifiers in a row after losing the first two matches. "We are not yet a good team, because we just started winning but we need to play with passion against the Irish," Rehhagel said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Football Association president Jim Boyce today called on club managers to get behind national teams and give their full support. Boyce is angered that Northern Ireland have suffered so many withdrawals ahead of the game, although he praised Leicester City manager Micky Adams for releasing Gillespie: "It shows the honour of Mickey Adams. He encouraged Keith to play for his country".

Greece (probable): Nikopolidis; Antzas, Fyssas, Seitaridis, Kapsis, Dellas; Giannakopoulos, Karagounis, Basinas;Haristeas, Vryzas.

Northern Ireland (probable): Taylor; Baird, Griffin, McCartney, Holmes; Gillespie capt), Whitley, Doherty, Hughes; Healy, Smith.

Referee: Lucilio Cardoso Cortez Batista (Por).

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