Mexico and Greece need a helping hand
Mexico and Greece currently find themselves in exactly the same predicament as Italy before their final group game of EURO 2004. Both teams need a victory from their head-to-head clash if they are to stand any hope of quarter-final qualification. However, neither team can qualify purely on their own merit. And the teams playing the parallel fixture between Korea Republic and Mali could play out a draw just as Sweden and Denmark did in Portugal. If that should happen, Mexico and Greece would befall the same fate as Italy at the European Championship and their Olympic campaign would come to a premature end.
For Mexican coach Ricardo La Volpe, whose position came under scrutiny before the team left for the Olympic Games, the crucial tie could be his last 90 minutes on the bench if events do not unfold favourably. "My team have to draw a line under the game against Korea Republic. We played poorly and now we have to live with the consequences. We are very disappointed because the team has worked very hard as a whole."
But La Volpe is not admitting defeat just yet: "Now we have to make sure we beat Greece by as many goals as possible and we might still reach the quarter-finals." However, his team's performances thus far do not offer sufficient evidence to suggest that the feat is a realistic prospect. In two games, Mexico have failed to score a single goal. Their finishing in the 0-0 against Mali and the 1-0 defeat to Korea Republic left little to be desired. La Volpe's nerves were in tatters by the end of the Mali game as he watched his players waste chance after chance. Then, in their second game against Mexico, they failed to create a single real goalscoring opportunity.
The Mexican players refuse to give up hope as long as there is a mathematical chance of reaching the quarter-finals. Diego Martínez said after the defeat: "We lost and we can't change that. Now we will need a monumental effort just to remain in the competition."
Surprisingly, hosts Greece find themselves in an identical position. And as with Mexico, the first two performances of coach Stratos Apostolakis' team, who must win by an even greater margin than their opponents, provide little hope of survival in the tournament. Greece, who are carrying the burden of their nation's European Championship glory on their shoulders, are still kicking themselves over missed opportunities in the opening game against Korea Republic, when they failed to convert countless opportunities on goal.
The home nation enjoyed little more success in their defeat to Mali, with the team's only European champion, Dimitrios Papadopoulos, missing an academic penalty. "We weren't on form," Apostolakis admitted after the game, adding: "It is a difficult time for the Greek players." However, with a partisan crowd behind them, just maybe Greece can emulate their senior team and achieve the impossible.