NEWS

Otto can’t wait for Euro debut

Greece manager Otto Rehhagel said yesterday that he is impatient for his team to make its debut at Euro 2008 against Sweden today. «We are happy that Euro 2008 begins for us as well,» he said at a press conference near Salzburg in Austria yesterday. «I want the players to give their best in tomorrow’s [today’s] game but it’s also up to our opponents if we can put in the kind of performance that we want,» he said. Greece have never lost to Sweden but they have never played them in a competitive match before. The two sides have played each other five times in friendly matches. Greece have won twice and the other three games have been draws. The most recent encounter was on August 20 in 2003 when Greece won 2-1 in Sweden. Stelios Giannakopoulos and Pantelis Kafes got the goals for Rehhagel’s men. The 69-year-old indicated that he was in a rare mood ahead of today’s game. «I feel great. I’m healthy, I’ve been married to Beate for 34 years. What’s the worst that can happen to me?» Rehhagel said that there were no longer concerns about the fitness of Panathinaikos midfielder Giorgos Karagounis but there are doubts about backup keeper Costas Chalkias, who has bruised his finger. Rehhagel added that all 23 players on the squad would have to be ready to contribute to the effort. «We are in very good shape but experience shows that just one meter or just one second is enough to affect the result,» he told journalists. The Greece coach said he would continue to place a great emphasis on trying to score from corners and fouls, while defending effectively when the opposition has these set pieces. «International football has shown us that many games have been decided by set pieces,» he said. The wily German refused to give away his starting lineup. «I don’t know which players I am going to use. This is something that I will decide at the last moment.» Players predict low-scoring match in team’s opener against Sweden SALZBURG (AP) – Titleholder Greece expects a tight defensive battle rather than a high-scoring soccer show against Sweden in the team’s European Championship opener tonight. That’s not surprising, since the Greeks, who stunned Europe by winning the tournament four years ago, are up against an opponent with similar qualities: physically strong and with a sturdy defense. «We know this will be a game of strong defense, counterattacks and set pieces,» defender Giourkas Seitaridis said yesterday. «It’ll be a low-scoring game, hopefully in our favor.» The Swedes, appearing in their fifth consecutive major championship, are counting on star strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson to ruffle the defending champions. Ibrahimovic hasn’t scored a goal for Sweden since 2005 but he has had a strong season for Inter Milan and is fit to play the entire match after recovering from a swollen knee, coach Lars Lagerback said. «He seems to have been born with good genes,» Lagerback said, noting the striker’s quick recovery. Both squads fielded all 23 players in their training sessions yesterday in Salzburg. Greek playmaker Giorgos Karagounis ended the session with an ice-pack strapped to his right knee, but said it was nothing serious. «My knee’s okay. The training was fine,» he said. Both teams have trained behind closed doors in the runup to the Group D encounter, careful not to release too many hints about lineups or tactics. Greece coach Otto Rehhagel is likely to see Sweden as the weakest opponent in the group, with Spain considered favorites to advance. Russia was the only team to beat Greece at Euro 2004. Greece striker Georgios Samaras predicted «there won’t be much football» in the opener against Sweden. «This is the first game, and both sides will be going for the result,» he said. The Swedes, too, are preparing for a close match. Captain Fredrik Ljungberg said the Greeks are strong in the air and on set pieces. «Greece is the reigning champion and, of course, we have respect for them as a team,» Ljungberg said. «They surprised a lot of teams last time and they probably can do the same again. So we need to be careful.» Sweden fullback Mikael Nilsson, who plays for Greek club Panathinaikos, said Greece is well organized but suggested their discipline can falter. «If you look at how we play in Panathinaikos, my guess is that they are the same, with the same mentality,» Nilsson said. «It can be a bit nonchalant at times and I’m sure it can be the same in the national team.» «Both teams will try to stay compact and be a bit careful,» Ibrahimovic said. «Then we’ll see who scores the first goal. That’s what’s going to decide everything. That’s when the game will open up.»