Portuguese concern rises after draw with Greece

Greece’s unexpected 1-1 draw in last Saturday’s international friendly against Portugal, one of Europe’s more formidable national sides, has caused some turmoil amid the ranks of next year’s European Championships host. Portugal’s Brazilian World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose side was kept to a draw by a 10-man Greece after 30 minutes, faced the nightmarish question at a post-match news conference for the first time: Did he fear for his job? Scolari brushed off the suggestion, but his team has been unable to shrug off growing discontent. As host of next summer’s Euro 2004 competition, Portugal qualified automatically. Greece, which topped Group 6 in the qualifiers, will also be there, for the second time after 1980. «Don’t write us off,» star striker Pauleta urged fans in comments published yesterday. «It’s unacceptable for our fans to start whistling at us after five minutes. It’s got to stop,» the Paris Saint-Germain player told the daily sports paper Record. Fans were unhappy with Portugal’s recent string of disappointing displays before the game kicked off. In the euphoria after Scolari signed for Portugal in January, for a 6-3-2 record to date, the country’s soccer federation chief, Gilberto Madail, hinted the Brazilian might steer Portugal to the Euro 2004 final. After the draw against Greece, Madail was more subdued. Portugal should aim for the quarterfinals, he said. One of Greece’s key performers in Portugal last Saturday, goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis – he kept out a penalty struck by Real Madrid’s star striker Luis Figo with a double save early in the game to keep the score at 0-0 – noted yesterday that Greece’s squad, notoriously undisciplined in the past, had now gelled into a closely knit team. Nikopolidis credited Otto Rehhagel, whose success in leading Greece to Euro 2004 was rewarded with a two-year contract extension last week with the World Cup finals in 2006 in mind. The side’s recent success, as reflected by an undefeated stretch now 13 games long, had raised Greece’s standards, said Nikopolidis. (Reuters, Kathimerini)