ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Defender Avraam Papadopoulos returned to the Greece squad on Friday for the World Cup qualifier against Bosnia next week after a nine-month injury absence.
Coach Fernando Santos selected Papadopoulos for the first time since the center back tore ligaments in his left knee at last year's European Championship. "There's always the small question mark whether he'll be ready, but he's being doing well since his return to club matches. I think he's a bull of a player," Santos said.
The Portuguese coach stuck with trusted players for the March 22 match in Zenica, led by veteran captain Giorgos Karagounis. The two countries are level on 10 points from four matches at the top of Group G, which also includes Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Liechtenstein.
Unbeaten so far in qualification, Greece has risen to 12th place in the football's world rankings — the highest in the group — under the 58-year-old Santos, who took over in 2010 and has lost only three times in 32 matches.
Moldova-born Juri Lodigin received his first call-up as reserve goalkeeper. "It's every footballer's dream to be in the national team, so I'm very happy," Lodigin said. "It'll be a pleasure to be back with my teammates from the under-21 squad, Costas Fortounis and Panagiotis Tachtsidis."
Tachtsidis kept his place in the squad despite recently being dropped from the starting line-up at AS Roma. "He's been effective whenever he's played, and we need a left-footed player because we have a lack of them in the squad," Santos said.
Santos is preparing his players for a tense atmosphere in Bosnia, but said he wouldn't opt for an overly defensive formation. "I'll tell the players what I always tell them: our aim is always to win the game, regardless of the opponent or where the game is being played," he said. "We'll both be bringing out our big guns, because the team that wins will be very close to qualification. It will be a full stadium with a lively atmosphere and without doubt they will start hard and press hard. We have to be ready for that."
Goalkeepers: Orestis Karnezis (Panathinaikos), Juri Lodigin (Xanthi), Michalis Sifakis (Charleroi).
Defenders: Vassilis Torosidis (AS Roma), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Werder Bremen), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiakos), Costas Manolas (Olympiakos), Stelios Malezas (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Giorgos Tzavelas (Monaco).
Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (APOEL), Yiannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Jose Holebas (Olympiakos), Costas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Panagiotis Kone (Bologna), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (AS Roma), Costas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna).
Forwards: Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Georgios Samaras (Celtic), Costas Mitroglou (Olympiakos), Fanis Gekas (Akhisar Belediyespor).