Word on the street is that Australia
is going to beat Greece this Thursday night.

According to a reliable source – Yianni, the
Greek taxi driver who drove me across town yesterday – the Greek players are so
demoralised by missing out on this year’s World Cup that this week’s game is
little more than an interruption to the late spring days they’d rather be enjoying
on the sunny banks of the Mediterranean.

When I reminded Yianni that this is the
same team that was crowned European Champions less than two years ago, with nine
of the 11 players from that team expected to play in Melbourne, Yianni
just shook his head. Wouldn’t hear of it.

So I told him that the game was a sell-out.
How could any player could be unmoved by playing in front of 95,000 fans? He
responded by saying the Australians had more to play for, and had more to lose.
The Greeks, well, what are they playing for?

At 6pm last night, the Greek team
ran out onto a soggy Bob Jane Stadium – a heartland of sorts for Greek soccer
in Melbourne – for their only public training session. There were 3000 fans
waiting in the stands, and for a mob that was resigned to a loss they were
certainly in good spirits. I began to suspect Yianni’s view was not universal
among Greek soccer fans.

Reporters hemmed the boundary line. Flares
were thrown onto the pitch. Fans carried blue and white flags, many had their
faces painted, and many, when given the chance, acted the patriotic fool for the
TV cameras.

This morning, with news that Australia
will be missing three of its big name players – Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, and
John Aloisi – I wondered if Yianni felt Greece’s
chances had improved. Either way, the stage is set for an enthralling game,
even if some of the locals are preparing themselves for the result to go the
wrong way.

Peter Fray

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