Rehhagel hopes to stretch mighty run

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel will rely on his defense in a friendly against Bulgaria in Athens tonight to prolong a 13-game unbeaten run that has already taken the team to the Euro championship in Portugal. «I want the boys to play a strong defense, as we’ve done in all other games up to now, and I want them to play with a sense of responsibility,» the German coach told reporters yesterday. «This is a friendly and they should not feel pressure to get points but we must have passion to continue our unbeaten run.» Since taking over about two years ago, Rehhagel has transformed a talented yet undisciplined Greek side into a strong defensive unit which kept clean sheets in their last six Euro qualifiers. Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Papadopoulos will be in the starting lineup after two months out with injury. «I want him to play just like he played in the Champions League this year,» Rehhagel said, adding he would also use Werder Bremen striker Angelos Haristeas in the second half. Eintracht Frankfurt striker Yiannis Amanatidis has replaced the injured Stelios Yiannakopoulos, the Greek Football Association said yesterday. Yiannakopoulos, who plays for English premier league side Bolton Wanderers, was suffering from a minor injury, the Greek FA said. Amanatidis, who has played twice for Greece, was signed from VfB Stuttgart earlier this month and last weekend scored his first goal for Frankfurt against Bayer Leverkusen. The 23-year-old joins several other foreign-based Greek players in the squad, including Leicester City’s Nikos Dabizas, Werder Bremen’s Haristeas and Benfica defender Takis Fyssas. Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov is hopeful his captain Stilian Petrov will be fit enough to play in tonight’s friendly international. Celtic’s Petrov suffered an abdominal injury during his club’s 2-1 victory over Dundee United in the Scottish premier league on Saturday. Markov said striker Petrov was expected to arrive in Sofia late yesterday and the situation would then be assessed. The match against Greece will give Markov a chance to evaluate his team’s form ahead of this year’s European championship in Portugal, where Bulgaria face Italy, Denmark and Sweden in the opening group stage. «We cannot experiment, there is no time,» the coach said after assembling the squad for their training camp in Sofia. «It is important for us to show that we are continuing our development in the right direction.» (Reuters)