International soccer friendly to launch new Cretan stadium

Hoping to continue his 14-game unbeaten streak, German coach Otto Rehhagel will field his core group of winning players today when Greece faces Switzerland in a friendly match on the island of Crete. Rehhagel is widely expected to use the same players in Greece’s Euro 2004 games in Portugal. «These players made us a gift: qualification for the Euro 2004… we must trust them,» Rehhagel told reporters. It will be Greece’s first participation in European Championship finals since 1980. Swiss coach Koebi Kuhn has lined up youngsters and a veteran passed over in recent years for the friendly. Daniel Gygax of FC Zurich and Stephane Grichting, who plays for Auxerre in France, were included on the roster for the first time. Midfielder Johann Lonfat – of French club Sochaux – received his first offer to join since Switzerland’s 1-3 defeat to Canada in a friendly almost two years ago. Striker Alex Frei, a cornerstone of the Swiss squad, is also on top form with his French club Rennes. This month alone, Frei scored all of Rennes’s goals in the club’s 4-3 defeat of Marseilles and found the net twice in two minutes in a 3-0 victory over Strasbourg. Absent from the squad will be injured defender Murat Yakin, midfielders Christoph Spycher and Ludovic Magnin, as well as Eindhoven midfielder Johann Vogel. On the Greek squad, a major disadvantage for the German coach will be the absence of Giorgos Karagounis for the second game in a row. The Internazionale Milan playmaker sustained an ankle injury in a Thursday UEFA cup match against Portugal’s Benfica. Karagounis also did not play in Greece’s friendly against Bulgaria last month because he was suspended for yellow cards. A Greek soccer federation official said that Rehhagel was not expected to replace Karagounis with another player. «We have enough players who can form an ideal squad,» Rehhagel told reporters. Today’s warm-up match in Iraklion will be the last on Greek soil. Three more friendlies, against the Netherlands, Poland and Liechtenstein, are scheduled to be played away before the June Euro 2004 finals. The match will be played in the newly built Pancrition Stadium in Iraklion, which will host 10 soccer matches during the August 13-29 Olympic Games. The match is considered a pre-Olympic test event for the 27,000-seat stadium. Test events are designed to assess the readiness of an Olympic venue and determine whether any changes need to be made. The newspaper SporTime said that an additional motive for the Greek players to defeat Switzerland will be their desire not to spoil their 14-game winning streak. Those games included friendlies. «They also want to conclude their commitments in Greece with a win,» SporTime wrote. Rehhagel is expected to have Antonis Nikopolidis again mind the goal. The international goalkeeper, a regular starter in almost all games, has not conceded a goal in the last six encounters. Atletico Madrid’s striker Demis Nikolaidis, who missed the game against Bulgaria, will possibly pair up with Dimitris Papadopoulos in Greece’s attack. The 22-year-old Papadopoulos is the top scorer for his club, Panathinaikos, with 13 goals in 24 first-division games. (AP)

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