Football

Greece coach slams Fifa for Manolas ban

world cup play-off,  FIRST LEG
CROATIA GREECE


Greece coach Michael Skibbe blasted Fifa's decision to ban Roma defender Kostas Manolas from Friday morning's (Singapore time) World Cup play-off first leg away to Croatia for "intentionally seeking a yellow card".

"What Fifa did was not right. Fifa sometimes takes some 'special' decisions. And this is 'special'," Skibbe said yesterday.

Fifa's disciplinary committee on Friday handed Manolas a one-match suspension after he was adjudged to have deliberately got himself booked for time-wasting in Greece's 2-1 win in Cyprus last month.

That yellow card triggered a ban which Manolas served in Greece's final group game - a 4-0 victory over Gibraltar - but the 26-year-old will now also miss the trip to Zagreb.

"I do not know how that was decided. We were ahead of Cyprus 2-1 and, in the last few minutes, every team around the world lets some players get a yellow card for delaying," Skibbe said.

"And now Fifa has decided four weeks later to punish him for something that all players do."

Even without Manolas in the starting line-up, and despite some injuries, Skibbe said his team will be ready for the encounter with Croatia.

FLAWLESS RECORD

Meanwhile, Croatia will head into the two-leg tie confident of maintaining their flawless record in the final round of qualifying for major tournaments.

The Croatians have won all four of their play-offs to reach either World Cup or European Championship tournaments in the past and have advanced to nine out of 11 major Finals as an independent nation.

"Winning the first leg would make life so much easier in the return fixture," Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic told the Croatian Football Association's official website.

"The Greeks will certainly be defensive and try as hard as they can to keep a clean sheet, but we have enough up our sleeve up front to swing the tie our way here in Zagreb.

"It's down to us, just as it was against Ukraine. The new coach (Zlatko Dalic) injected fresh ideas and we did the best job we could in that vital game."

Defensive midfielder Milan Badelj has been ruled out of the tie with a ribcage muscle injury while striker Mario Mandzukic is doubtful with a hamstring strain. - WIRE SERVICES

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