SPORTS

Long-serving striker ends career

Hardworking striker Zisis Vryzas, a key player for the national soccer team as well as several clubs, domestic and foreign, yesterday announced his retirement from the game, as a player. The 34-year-old, whose top-tier career began in 1991 at provincial club Xanthi in northern Greece, will play his final game this Sunday with PAOK, the Thessaloniki club with which he spent four years between 1996 and 2000 before returning for a second tenure last year to end his career. Vryzas will continue serving as technical director at PAOK, now headed by old teammate Theodoris Zagorakis. Both were regular starters for Greece at the Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal, where the national team stunned the sporting world with its shock triumph. Now one game away from the season's halfway mark, PAOK lies seventh in the 16-team Super League. «I recently decided to retire from soccer. I've informed the president and coach about my decision, which was fully respected,» Vryzas said in a statement posted on PAOK's official website. «We've mutually decided that I will play my final home against Larissa at the [home] Toumba Stadium. I thank all my coaches and teammates with whom I worked at PAOK, Xanthi, Perugia, Fiorentina, Torino, Celta and the national team. Above all, I thank the people at PAOK who made me become so attached to this club as well as the Greek fans who show their respect with every opportunity.» Though not a prolific scorer, Vryzas was valued by coaches and teammates for a number of attributes, including his hard work, devotion, ability, passing skills and teamwork. He managed to score a number of crucial goals throughout his career, both at club and international level, including Greece's solitary goal in a 2-1 loss against Russia at Euro 2004 that was enough to send the national team through to the quarterfinals. Following his first tenure at PAOK, which ended while the popular Thessaloniki club was in financial turmoil, Vryzas spent three years at Perugia between 2001 and 2003, helping the Italian team survive in the top-tier Serie A. The Kavala-born Greek player then transferred to another Italian team, Fiorentina, for a further two years and helped the club earn promotion to the Serie A. From there, Vryzas spent a series of short spells at Spain's Celta de Vigo, Torino, and Xanthi for a second tenure, before returning to PAOK last year in a move he described as «an emotional choice.»

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