Greece sets its sights on Euro quarterfinals

Advancing to the second round is Greece’s main objective at the European Soccer Championship that kicks off tonight in Switzerland and Austria, said England-based Stelios Giannakopoulos in a press conference in Salzburg yesterday. «Our realistic target is to qualify from the group stage. We have all made this clear and this is what we will try to achieve,» said the Bolton Wanderers midfielder. No European soccer champion has ever managed to defend its title successfully in the 48 years of the competition’s history, and it would probably be too much to ask that Greece be the first to do so. Yet Otto Rehhagel and his 23 men are entering the tournament on Tuesday with a completely different mind-set to that of 2004, when Greece created arguably the biggest upset ever in international soccer competition. With a squad that is over 50 percent renewed since the previous tournament in Portugal, Greece is under no illusion it is the favorite or even a likely semifinalist, but the team has grown in confidence and enjoys a good mix of talent and experience. Being the top seed in its group, whose matches will be played in Salzburg, Greece will face two of the three teams it met in Portugal’s qualifying group as well four years ago. It will contest Spain and Russia again but, instead of Portugal, Greece will start its games with Sweden. The top two of each group advance to the quarterfinals. On Tuesday (at 9.45 p.m.), the match with Sweden will be crucial for Greece’s future in the competition, considering that Spain appear to be the favorite to win the group. A win over the Scandinavians will surely set the Greeks on their way to the second round, although Russia, the team’s second opponent, next Saturday, may create more problems for Greece than Sweden. Greece’s only disadvantage – apart from the lack of form that friendlies before the tournament have revealed, given this is the end of the season – is that many fans in Greece almost expect the team to at least make it to the semifinals. And the Greeks are easy to disappoint. The fantastic run (10 wins, one draw and one loss) in the qualifiers pointed to Greece’s inclusion among Europe’s elite. Making it to the quarterfinals will certainly consolidate that. That will be another lasting success, after the European crown.