The 2004 European Champions host Alexei Mikhailichenko's team at the Olympic Stadium in Athens tomorrow before travelling to Donetsk for the return four days later with a place in South Africa at stake. "We have to be disciplined and be fully concentrated," said the 71-year-old German, who, despite some key absences, is happy with the mood in his camp.
"We don't have the luxury of being able to call on all of our players as we have some key men missing such as [Giourkas] Seitaridis and [Vasilis] Torosidis. But I have confidence in all my squad. I believe always that which I see and I'm glad my players are showing self-confidence. But we will see how we will play when the time comes. They have to go out on the pitch, show their skills and play beyond their limits."
Rehhagel, whose team earned their play-off spot by virtue of victories over Latvia and Luxembourg in their final two Group 2 qualifiers, is boosted by the return to fitness of striker Angelos Charisteas. The Nurnberg frontman is likely to team up with Theofanis Gekas, the top scorer in qualifying with 10 goals, and Celtic's Giorgos Samaras in Greece's attacking triumvirate.
Greece will also be relying heavily on midfield duo Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis, the latter of which has been in scintillating club form for Panathinaikos, netting six goals from midfield so far this season. Katsouranis' team-mate Loukas Vintra is set to fill in at right back for Seitaridis while Alexandros Tziolis is likely to get the nod in midfield in the absence of Torosidis.
The portents, however, appear to favour an improved Ukraine team who secured their play-off berth ahead of Croatia thanks to 6-0 win over Andorra in their final Group 6 match. It was Ukraine who were chiefly responsible for Greece's failure to reach the last FIFA World Cup after they won in Athens to qualify ahead of the Greeks. The Ukrainians also have a rejuvenated Andrei Shevchenko, who netted six goals during the group campaign, among their ranks.
The big story in the Ukraine camp was Mikhailichenko's decision to drop experienced forward Andriy Voronin from his squad for the tie. The 30-year-old Liverpool striker has been out of favour since criticising Mikhailichenko in the media after the qualifier against Croatia in October last year.
Mikhailichenko said Ukraine would not be trying to play for a draw in the first leg. "We are going to Greece with the target of winning; for us there is no difference between home and away matches," he said. "I believe both teams have a 50-50 chance of qualifying. Greece have a good blend of youth and experience and possess a coach who has been in charge for many years and they have a disciplined approach."