Greece ready to play Gekas for Croatia 'final'

ATHENS - Greece are treating Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier at home to Croatia as a cup final and are poised to sharpen their attack by handing striker Fanis Gekas a first appearance since he quit the national team last year.

The top two in Group F meet in Athens with a point between them as Croatia coach Slaven Bilic's leaders look for a win to reach the finals while the hosts must avoid defeat to stay in the hunt for first place before the last group games on October 11.

"When the draw was made we said that the two games with Croatia would be the most important and so it has proved," Greece coach Fernando Santos told reporters.

"After the 1-1 draw in Croatia we knew it was a very good result because it meant we kept our destiny in our own hands."

Santos has sprung a few surprises with his squad selection, bringing back 31-year-old Euro 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas and Gekas, who retired from international football in September 2010.

Gekas publicly apologised for what he called an "error of judgment" in a statement he issued on his return to the squad.

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker is expected to spearhead the attack supported on the flanks by Giorgos Samaras and Dimitris Salpigidis in a 4-3-3 formation.

Greece, unbeaten in 14 matches since Santos took over from Otto Rehhagel after the 2010 World Cup, are aiming for nothing less than three points in their final home match.

"The match against Croatia is like a cup final for us and we all believe we will win it," defender Socrates Papastathopoulos said. "I think we'll be in the Euro 2012 finals automatically."

ANOTHER CHANCE

A stubborn defensive display allowed Greece to come away from Zagreb with a point when the teams met last September.

Neither team can finish below second place in the group, which at worst would lead to a spot in the qualifying playoffs for next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine.

"Defeat would not be the end of the world. Whoever happens to lose this game will still end up second and will get another chance," Bilic said.

There were no major changes to Croatia's squad from their last game against Israel on Sept. 6 with the only surprise being Bilic's decision not to call up forward Ivica Olic who was deemed unfit following a hip injury sustained in August.

The only key player unavailable for selection is captain Darijo Srna, who is suspended.

Striker Eduardo skipped Monday's training session due to a minor injury and Vedran Corluka had a slight ankle problem but both are expected to have recovered by Friday.

Croatia's final qualifier is at home to Latvia next Tuesday, while Greece travel to Georgia.


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