Lacking fire but happy

Overlooking the opposition’s superior showing throughout most of the game, Greece’s Olympic soccer team coach Stratos Apostolakis said yesterday that he was satisfied by his side’s 1-1 home draw in a friendly against Italy late on Tuesday night. Coach Apostolakis contended that the result was noteworthy considering the caliber of Italy, a side which he rated as a favorite for gold at the Olympics soccer tournament in Athens this summer. «The impressions left by the game are positive should we take into consideration that we were up against a great side, which I believe will be a contender for the gold if it qualifies,» Apostolakis said. «I’m satisfied by the team’s showing, and we tried out certain things.» However, Apostolakis said he was disappointed by poor attendance at the game at the Rizoupoli Stadium in Athens. «The picture of [empty] stands at Rizoupoli can be attributed to a wider phenomenon in Greek soccer. I hope the country’s regional stadiums are soon completed so we can play the rest of our games beyond Athens. We want the people to become acquainted with this side,» said Apostolakis, referring to Greece’s pre-Olympics schedule. Despite lacking momentum and coordination, the Greeks managed to open the scoring in 30 minutes with a penalty kick from Dimitris Salpiggidis after teammate Pantelis Kapetanos was brought down. The Italians leveled right before halftime, also from the penalty spot, after striker Andrea Caracciolo was fouled in the box and Giuseppe Sculli converted. Italy was clearly the better side in the second half, but failed to capitalize on its dominance for a winning result. Olympic soccer is an Under-23 tournament with allowances of up to three overage players for every team. Though top-level soccer competition is expected at the August 13-29 Games in Athens, organizers and fans were recently disappointed by the failure of the much-loved Brazilians to qualify. Brazil, winner of five World Cup titles but not a single Olympics title, was eliminated from the tournament following a surprise 1-0 defeat against Paraguay in January. The organizing committee’s Olympic soccer tournament manager, Patrick Comninos, responding to Brazil’s unexpected absence, admitted the development was a blow to the tournament but assured high standards of play. «The Brazilians would have added flair,« Comninos said, «but the standard of soccer during the Games will still be the highest ever seen in Greece.» Greece will be taking part in Olympic soccer finals for the first time as the host nation. It is one of 16 sides that will compete. Not all berths have yet been settled. First-round group games, for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, will be staged in Thessaloniki, Volos and Iraklion, with the finals in Athens.