Euro 2012: Samaras denies Greece scoring problem
WARSAW, Poland (AP) -Since taking over as Greece coach two years ago, Fernando Santos has made the team more attack-minded, typically fielding three strikers.
The problem is they don't score.
On the eve of the European Championship's opening game Friday between Greece and co-host Poland, Santos will be looking for Georgios Samaras, Dimitris Salpigidis and Fanis Gekas to take on Poland's often erratic defense.
The attacking trio only scored a goal each in qualifying, while five of the country's 14 goals came from defenders. Samaras also had a quiet season for his club team in Scotland, scoring four league goals for champion Celtic in 26 appearances. And last week, he failed to convert a penalty for Greece in a friendly against Armenia, his shot stopped by an impressive save from Roman Berezovki.
But the towering 27-year-old Samaras insists Greece doesn't have "a scoring problem. The friendly matches mean nothing.
"The (missed) penalty is over,'' he added. "I'm looking ahead, not at the past. I just want to be in good shape to help the team.''
Despite his widely acknowledged skills as a player, Samaras has scored only seven goals for Greece in his 54 matches since 2006. Those goals, however, tend to be decisive.
Samaras turned the game in Greece's key qualifier in October against main rival Croatia, firing in a shot in the 71st minute that was followed by a Gekas header eight minutes later to make it 2-0.
It was a moment, Samaras said he would never forget, providing relief in a country demoralized by a severe financial crisis.
"I don't like making promises or making bold statements. But we have the Croatia game on our minds,'' he said. "It made people happy and gave them a chance to forget about their problems. We'd like to do that here too.''
Similar to Samaras, the once free-scoring Salpigidis has only tallied five goals for PAOK Thessaloniki in the league this season in 29 games. His national team replacement on the right, attacking midfielder Sotiris Ninis, played six matches for his club Panathinaikos this season, scoring one goal.
The 32-year-old Gekas, who came out of international retirement to join Santos, has arguably had the best year out of Greece's forwards. He scored eight times in 11 matches with Turkey's lowly Samsunspor, before his season was cut short by a knee injury. His successes included a hat trick in February against Turkish league runner-up Fenerbahce.
Greece also faces Russia and Czech Republic in Group A.