ATHENS - Just two-and-a-half months as coach of Greece, Claudio Ranieri is heading towards a pair of key Euro 2016 qualifiers that could put his job at risk.
After a disastrous start to his campaign with an opening 1-0 Group F loss at home to Romania last month, the 63-year-old Italian certainly feels the pressure to make good against Finland in Helsinki Saturday and at home against Northern Ireland next week.
"I hope we win. Both matches are difficult. They are both good teams who fight to the end. We are ready and optimistic about the matches," Ranieri said.
A sports website in his native country and at least one sports writer in Greece have written that negative results by the Greeks in both matches may lead to Ranieri's departure.
However sources at the Greek football federation have stated that Ranieri has a two-year contract to help the team qualify for the Euro 2016 finals and that there is no question of his replacement, at least at this stage.
Also read: Ranieri new Greece manager
He took over as Greece's coach after his predecessors, Portugal's Fernando Santos had taken the team to the World Cup 2014 and before that Germany's Otto Rehhagel led Greece to the Euro 2004 title.
Ranieri, who was sacked from Monaco in May, had very little time to gain knowledge of the players and it showed with the loss to Romania.
He was also criticised by the Greek press for his player selections and tactics in the match.
Ranieri called up for the first time 21-year-old Olympiakos forward Dimitris Diamantakos and 23-year-old AEK midfielder Petros Mantalos against Romania but has left them out for the matches against Finland and Northern Ireland.
He replaced them with 22-year-old Panathinaikos forward Nikos Karelis and 21-year-old Sunderland winger Charalampos Mavrias, but also added 20-year-old Fulham defender Kostas Stafylidis and a fourth goalkeeper in 21-year-old Sokratis Dioudis of Club Brugge KV.
Returning after a long absence is 29-year-old PAOK midfielder Alexandros Tziolis but left out of the lineup was 34-year-old Akhisar Belediyespor striker Fanis Gekas who has already scored six goals in his first four matches for his club.
The federation appointed earlier this month former Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis to act as liaison between Ranieri and the players in order to help bridge the communication gap.
Karagounis, who at age 37 retired as a player from the Greek squad with a record 139 caps, knows the Italian well after playing two years at Inter Milan.Ranieri led Monaco to second place in Ligue 1 in 2013 and also had spells with Chelsea, Serie A clubs Inter Milan, Napoli, Fiorentina, Juventus, Roma and Parma as well as Spanish outfits Atletico Madrid and Valencia.
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