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Soccer: Greece gets second chance at Euro 2004 after strong qualifyi

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  • Soccer: Greece gets second chance at Euro 2004 after strong qualifyi

    Greece gets second chance at Euro 2004 after strong qualifying run
    KYRIACOS CONDOULIS, Canadian Press Sports
    May 29 2004

    ATHENS (AP) - Greece is playing in a European Championship for the
    first time in 24 years with hopes of erasing past embarrassments.

    A good performance at Euro 2004 in Portugal would also give the
    country a sporting boost ahead of the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

    Greece's German coach Otto Rehhagel is aiming high. After completing
    a lap of honour with his players last year to celebrate qualification
    for the June 12-July 4 finals, "King Otto" spelled out his team's

    "We want to make an impact in Portugal. We don't just want to put in
    an appearance."

    Greece (6-2-0) topped Group 6, forcing favoured Spain to the playoffs,
    in a qualification stunner.

    Having lost just one match in 16 encounters, Greece is feeling
    optimistic despite a daunting fixture list - host Portugal in the
    tournament's opening match June 12, followed by a revenge-hungry
    Spain and unpredictable Russia.

    On top of this, Greece's record at the highest level is dismal. The
    country has never won a game in the finals of any major competition.

    Humiliation last came in 1994 in the United States, when Greece's first
    World Cup appearance ended in disaster with three heavy defeats. In
    their first game against Argentina, Greece conceded a goal just 83
    seconds into the match and went on to lose 4-0.

    An early exit in Portugal would kill the sense of pride revived since
    Rehhagel's arrival in 2001.

    The German triggered a change in the team's fortunes after another
    failed campaign in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers and a walkout by
    Demis Nikolaidis and other star players disgusted at the state of
    Greek soccer.

    Rehhagel set out methodically to reinvent the team, luring back
    Nikolaidis to join Angelos Haristeas and Zissis Vryzas in attack and
    form a trio that fired Greece through the Euro 2004 qualification

    Early signs of recovery were evident in the 2-2 draw with England in
    a 2002 World Cup qualifier at Old Trafford. Nikolaidis put the Greeks
    ahead early in the second half and England only scraped through thanks
    to David Beckham's historic last-minute free kick.

    The road to Portugal started badly for the Greeks who suffered 2-0
    defeats at home to Spain in September 2002 and away to Ukraine a
    month later.

    But Rehhagel's confidence in his men was rewarded and Greece bounced
    back four days later to beat Armenia 2-0 at home with Nikolaidis
    scoring both goals. Haristeas received the honours in April 2003 when
    Greece beat Northern Ireland in Belfast with two goals from the Werder
    Bremen striker.

    Greece's finest hour came last June when a stunning 1-0 away victory
    against Spain, with the damage dome by Bolton Wanderers midfielder
    Stelios Giannakopoulos.

    Qualification was suddenly with reach, and victory against Ukraine
    four days afterward with a late Haristeas goal put the Greeks squarely
    back in contention.

    Rehhagel's men leapfrogged Spain to go top after the favourite was
    held by Northern Ireland.

    There was no looking back.

    Greece travelled to Armenia to secure a 1-0 win, in a match marred
    by bribery allegations that were eventually dropped by Armenian
    officials. And a final 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland sealed the
    winning run.

    Key to Greece's revival was the squad's newfound unity and attacking
    mentality, with German rigour imposed on a traditionally undisciplined

    Rehhagel's innovations including a strong defence line with Nikos
    Dabitzas and Traianos Dellas joining Yiannis Goumas or Michalis
    Kapsis. The fleet Yiourkas Seitaridis played on the right and Stelios
    Venetidis or Panagiotis Fyssas on the left.

    The Greeks also got superb goalkeeping from Antonis Nikopolidis,
    despite being benched by his own Athens club in a salary dispute.

    Angelos Basinas, Vassilis Tsiartas - who scored the winning goal
    against Northern Ireland - and captain Theodore Zagorakis are likely
    to feature prominently in the Greek midfield. Inter Milan agile
    midfielder Giorgos Karagounis adds an extra dose of creativity.

    Greece conceded just four goals in eight qualification matches, in
    the face of the attacking might of players like Real Madrid's Raul
    Gonzalez and AC Milan's Andriy Shevchenko, both firing blanks.

    Rehhagel, a former Werder Bremen coach, is not expected to make any
    substantial changes to the spine of the team.

    A reality check for Greece came April 28 when the unbeaten streak
    was finally ended by a 4-0 friendly defeat at the hands of fellow
    qualifiers the Netherlands.

    It was an uncomfortable reminder of their crushing 5-0 defeat to
    England at Wembley prior to the 1994 World Cup. Greece went on to
    concede 10 goals - scoring none - in the finals.

    Greece didn't heed the warning then. An entire nation is hoping they
    will now.

    From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress