Men’s national volleyball squad faces two major challenges soon

As his squad gears up for a heavy schedule of official and unofficial games over the next three months, the men’s national volleyball team coach said yesterday that his side was determined to do well in its first big challenge, a series of European Championship qualifiers. Greece, drawn against France (third in the recent World Championships), Finland and Romania in its European qualifiers, to be played in Finland between May 9-11, will strive for at least second place, team coach Stelios Prosalikas told a news conference yesterday. The group’s winner will advance directly to the finals, while the runner-up’s record will be measured against those of second-placed sides from the three other qualifying groups. The teams with the best two records will also gain finals berths. «We hope to qualify, but disqualification won’t be a catastrophe or failure,» Prosalikas said. «Our group includes France and Finland, which will be playing at home. This makes the task of qualifiying difficult but not unattainable. We’re a better side than Finland, but they’re playing at home. Romania is the group’s only weak side,» he added. Greece, scheduled to play a total of 21 games over the next 10 weeks, will soon begin its campaign with six friendly internationals, before the squad travels to Finland for its three European qualifiers. These will then be followed by 12 World League matches. At the news conference, Prosalikas pointed out that Greek volleyball was currently plagued by a shortage of fresh talent. He expressed hope, however, that disciplined work over the past two years, and a prospective Olympic volleyball complex in Paeania, on the outskirts of northern Athens, will eventually spark «a revolution and change all that.» Generations of future volleyball players stand to benefit from the project, Prosalikas said. The national volleyball federation’s president, Thanassis Beligratis, also at the news conference, said the complex’s main court had been completed. Looking ahead to next year’s Athens Olympics, Prosalikas said he intends to round up his entire squad of players in April, 2004, several months before the Olympiad’s August 13 start. The Greek league will not be disrupted. Commenting on the exclusion of Olympiakos player Costas Christofidelis from the Greek squad, which prompted a public protest from the player, the Greek team’s coach attributed his decision to a knee injury last season which forced Christofidelis to switch from attack to defense, where his performance dropped, Prosalikas said. «I have two good defenders. Besides, Christofidelis wants, as soon as he can, to return up front. He is one of Europe’s leading offensive players and I’ll be glad to see him leaping and spiking again,» said Prosalikas. Beligratis, the federation’s chief, condemned the Greek State for its failure to naturalize the Slovak player Andrei Kravarik, a longtime resident and player with the Iraklis club for several years, who has repeatedly expressed a desire to play with the national team. Beligratis noted that Kravarik’s application for Greek citizenship had been bogged down in «Greek bureaucracy.»