World Cup draw favors Greece

Greece, one of the leading seeds in yesterday’s draw that determined groups leading to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, was rewarded with a place in what appears to be the European zone’s weakest group. The national soccer team, which went into the draw – held in Durban – as one of Europe’s top nine teams based on world rankings provided by FIFA, the sport’s international body, will face Israel, Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg in Group B. The top teams from the European zone’s nine groups qualify for the World Cup. Eight of the nine second-placed teams will meet in four home-and-away playoffs for an additional four berths. Qualifying competition begins on September 6. Coaches of the participating sides will soon meet to arrange fixtures. A date has not yet been set. «The draw may seem easy, but we need to be careful. If the team plays according to its ability, it stands a chance of qualifying,» said Greece coach Otto Rehhagel. Greece has qualified for the World Cup finals once before, in 1994, but returned home from the USA as a humbled side after losing all three of its first-stage group games. The expectations for a second World Cup appearance by Greece, in Germany last year, ran high following the national team’s shock Euro 2004 victory in Portugal. But Greece failed in its attempt, depriving Rehhagel of leading his Greek team in his native Germany. The Greek soccer federation has made clear its interest in extending Rehhagel’s contract beyond next summer’s Euro 2008 finals, when his deal expires, with the 2010 World Cup in mind. Rehhagel, who recently became Greece’s longest serving coach, said he would deal with the issue following Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, where the national team will defend its European title.