NEWS

Greece fights for berth in soccer final

In the Oporto stadium, where 18 days ago Greece clinched what was then termed its best-ever victory, the national soccer squad will fight the tournament’s most exciting team for a berth in Sunday’s final. The Czech Republic is fancied as a major favorite to win the Euro 2004 championship, having emerged victorious from its four matches so far, in which it combined flair, doggedness and scintillating offensive play – scoring 10 goals to register as the most efficient attacking force in the tournament. For the first time since the Euro 2004 opening match, when Greece dispatched an edgy Portugal – the host team – 2-1 in the Dragao Stadium, the team’s German coach, Otto Rehhagel, will have all 23 players at his disposal without injury or suspension problems. Yet, again for the first time, the man credited with moulding an indifferent team into a respected fighting force showed more than a hint of doubt regarding the outcome of the semifinal. «I hope we have rested sufficiently in order to have enough strength to prove a good opponent for the Czech Republic,» he told a press conference. «We have lost a lot of energy, both physically and mentally.» Rehhagel did not elaborate, although the coach may have had in mind the fact that five squad members who play for AEK Athens face the prospect of never receiving months – even years – of outstanding pay the team owes them if AEK is declared bankrupt. This might well happen, after a court decision on Tuesday rejected the cash-strapped team’s debt write-off bid. «I only handle the national squad’s problems,» Rehhagel said when asked about possible AEK fallout. While refusing to discuss today’s tactics or lineup, the coach indicated that Greece will stand up to the Czechs as it faced powerhouses Spain and France earlier in the championship. «We will be easy and relaxed at the start, but we will try to grasp any opportunity to score,» he said. Greece’s most recent clash with the Czechs, in April 2002, was a goal-less draw. All previous encounters, with what was then Czechoslovakia, ended in Greek defeats. The game starts at 9.45 p.m. Greek time.