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Physical battle expected as Greece begins title defense against Sweden

Physical battle expected as Greece begins title defense against Sweden

Greece starts its European Championship title defense against a Sweden team with similar strengths and tactics.
Both teams are tall, strong and robust in defense. Both are happy to let the opponents have the ball, while awaiting the right moment for a speedy counter-strike. The stage is set for a physical battle in Salzburg on Tuesday, where set pieces could play a deciding role.
"They are really good in the air and they are really good in dead-ball situations so that's a factor that you have to keep in mind when you pick the starting 11," Sweden coach Lars Lagerback said.
Both teams have trained behind closed doors in the run-up to the Group D encounter, careful not to release too many hints about lineups or tactics.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel is likely to see Sweden as the weakest opponent in the group, with Spain considered favorites to advance. Russia was the only team to beat Greece at Euro 2004.
His main worry is the fitness of playmaker Giorgos Karagounis, who is recovering from a right knee injury and only returned to regular training on Friday. Greece has no other serious injury problems. Four players were sidelined for one or two days as a precaution.
"Right now, there's no Russia or Spain or anything else. There's just the first game against Sweden," Karagounis said.
The Greeks are eager to show their stunning performance four years ago was not a fluke, while the Swedes are counting on the firepower of strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and veteran Henrik Larsson to ruffle the title holders.
"The Swedes play a physical Scandinavian game but also very skilled," Greece reserve goalkeeper Costas Chalkias said. "They of course have two stars _ Ibrahimovic and Larsson _ but if we pay too much attention to them, someone else might slip through."
The Swedes say they have respect for the Greeks as defending champions and for their German coach's tactical skills.
Sweden fullback Mikael Nilsson, who plays for Greek club Panathinaikos, said the Greeks are well organized but suggested their discipline can falter.
"If you look at how we play in Panathinaikos my guess is that they are the same, with the same mentality," Nilsson said. "It can be a bit nonchalant at times and I'm sure it can be the same in the national team.
"It's probably hard to wipe that out even if you have a German coach. Those are things that we may be able to exploit."
Four years ago, the Greeks stunned attacking teams like Portugal and France with their rock-solid defense and quick counterattacks. On Tuesday, Greece is up against a team with a similar structure.
Although the Swedes have developed their offense in recent years, they often fall back on their fundamentals in big games: physical strength, a tight defense and team spirit.
"Both teams will try to stay compact and be a bit careful," Ibrahimovic said. "Then we'll see who scores the first goal. That's what's going to decide everything. That's when the game will open up."
The Inter Milan striker has been racing against the clock to build up strength after being sidelined with a swollen knee. He's a given in the starting lineup unless the swelling returns, but is unlikely to finish the match.
"I don't know myself if I can play 90 minutes," Ibrahimovic said.
Lagerback will likely pair him up with Larsson, but could also opt for a bigger striker, like Johan Elmander, against the sturdy Greek defense.
Both Sweden and Greece put in lackluster performances in their final warm-up matches. Greece lost to Hungary 3-2 and drew with Armenia 0-0. Sweden beat Slovenia 1-0 but lost by the same score to Ukraine.
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Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos in Fuschl am See, Austria, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-17 07:41 GMT+08:00