For coach Yiannis Ioannidis, a game of basketball is nothing less than a war. «The players, like the soldiers, are the stars doing the fighting. I am not a star. I am the general, and I demand that my players die in the arena. The national team is above all,» he told reporters yesterday in the Swedish town of Boras, where Greece will begin its challenge in this year’s European Championships. Coming from two disappointing performances at the last Europeans, in 1999 and 2001, this team is eager to recapture its spot among the best in Europe. Apart form wounded pride, these two sub-par performances cost Greece qualification in the 2000 Olympics and the 2002 World Championships, respectively. Contrary to the other teams taking part at these European Championships, qualification for next year’s Olympics is not a concern for Greece: it has already qualified, as the host. So has Serbia and Montenegro, the reigning world champion. Greece faces Croatia in today’s opening game and Ioannidis counts on the support of enthusiastic expatriates to provide a boost. In year’s before, Croatia was a formidable opponent for Greece, which always lost. These days, however, none of Croatia’s players are of the caliber of Dino Radja, Stojan Vrankovic, Zan Tabak, Franjo Arapovic and Toni Kukoc, not to mention the late Drazen Petrovic. Croatia’s coach admitted as much yesterday, saying Greece was the pre-match favorite. Still, Ioannidis leaves nothing to chance. And he certainly won’t let the team go in unprepared. Yesterday, he put an end to plans by the Swedish hosts to stage a small parade and festivities in the town’s central square, insisting he needed one more practice session. The other coaches concurred, more or less reluctantly. There will be a small opening ceremony ahead of today’s match. Ioannidis repeated yesterday his regret at cutting forward Costas Tsartsaris, one of his favorite players, from the squad, in order to take an additional guard. Tsartsaris epitomizes the kind of player Ioannidis wants: talented enough to be a star on any other team, but unselfish and ready to sacrifice scoring for more team-oriented work, such as defense and rebounding, not to mention hard work throughout the game.