NEWS

Greece awaits semifinal in a relaxed mode

After elbowing defending champions France out of the running, the least expected semifinalists in the Euro 2004 soccer championships now propose to have fun on Thursday, in the most high-profile match ever played by a Greek team. Greece’s coach, Otto Rehhagel, told journalists after Friday’s 1-0 victory over the squad that won the 1998 World Cup as well as the Euro 2000 that his players «must regroup and are looking forward to the next game with great joy.» The German coach sounded even more relaxed than before the quarterfinal, when he had vowed the team would only fall like heroes. «There’s nothing greater than beating a side like France,» he said on Saturday. «That’s really something. Now, the players will be totally liberated on the pitch.» It was Greece’s first-ever victory over France in seven matches, and the national squad’s second win in the Euro 2004 after beating hosts Portugal 2-1 in the tournament curtain raiser. Greece proceeded to draw 1-1 with Spain before losing its last first-round match to Russia, 2-1. «The French thought at first, ‘We’re the best,’» Rehhagel said, «and it was only later that they noticed, ‘Uh-oh.’ And then they went to kick-and-run football, and what a mess!» Midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos said the quarterfinal won Greece «the respect we deserve as players.» «We have to continue what we have begun, and this is the difficult part of our job now. We have to maintain the hard work and keep this level.» That, according to French defender Bixente Lizarazu, was France’s problem on Friday. «We could not be the best for ever,» he said. «There are no excuses, we did not manage to step up a level.» On Thursday, Greece may enjoy a supernatural edge over the Czech Republic. The head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos, congratulated the Greek team for Friday’s victory, which he attributed to «systematic preparation, intense training and living faith in the strength of God.» «I wish them a similar victory in the final, for which we all pray,» he said.