ATHENS, Greece — Defender Avraam Papadopoulos has been dropped from Greece's national team due to lingering injury problems ahead of a June 7 World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.
Greece coach Fernando Santos said Friday that the 28-year-old Olympiakos central defender would likely be replaced by an experienced teammate like Costas Katsouranis or Loukas Vyntra, while the side is set to be dominated by overseas players spared from Greece's grueling annual league playoffs.
Greece lost to Group G rival Bosnia 3-1 in March and now is in second place with 10 points from five matches. Bosnia leads with 13 points, while Slovakia has eight and Lithuania has five.
Santos said Greece will press hard for victory next week at the LFF Stadium in Vilnius.
"We have to be the better side and win," Santos said. "It doesn't matter whether that is decided in the first half or the second half. But, to be sure, we can't afford to wait.
"The Lithuania game is a big one, and that's obviously what we're focusing on. But we have five games left and we'll go into them all aggressively. Our aim is to make it to Brazil in first place — which would be ideal — or as runner-up."
Santos' selection was heavily weighted toward players based abroad — 14 from leagues in eight countries and only seven from Greek clubs — reflecting the steady stream of talent away from the financially troubled clubs at home, and the coach's personal annoyance with league organizers.
The Portuguese coach lashed out at the Greek league for insisting to hold end-of-season playoffs for European qualification.
"It's a crime to have so many matches like this: Six games in two weeks," said the 58-year-old Santos, who coached three Greek clubs over a decade before taking over Greece in 2010, and rarely makes critical public statements.
"I've been watching the playoff matches and it's unbelievable. The players are exhausted in the second half of matches and they can't do anything. They have cramps."
The playoffs involving Greek clubs PAOK, Atromitos, Asteras and Giannina end Sunday.
"I'll have to see how (PAOK players) Salpingidis and Katsouranis are after Sunday's game," Santos said.
Santos is sorely missing the dominating presence of 21-year-old defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos of Bundesliga club Schalke as he continues to recover from a knee operation. But he can count on in-form Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who recently completed a transfer to Champions League finalist Borussia Dortmund.
Goalkeepers: Orestis Karnezis (Panathinaikos), Michalis Sifakis (Charleroi)
Defenders: Vassilis Torosidis (AS Roma), Loukas Vyntra (Levante), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Costas Manolas (Olympiakos), Giorgos Tzavellas (Monaco), Jose Holebas (Olympiakos)
Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (APOEL), Yiannis Maniatis (Olympiakos), Kostas Katsouranis (PAOK), Giorgos Karagounis (Fulham), Costas Fortounis (Kaiserslautern), Panagiotis Kone (Bologna), Panagiotis Tachtsidis (AS Roma), Sotiris Ninis (Parma), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Bologna)
Forwards: Kostas Mitroglou (Olympiakos), Georgios Samaras (Celtic), Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK), Fanis Gekas (Belediyespor)