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Otto Rehhagel remains realistic on Greece’s Euro 2004 chances

Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel wants at least one victory in the first round of next month’s European championship to make his team’s campaign a success. After two poor appearances on the international stage – the 1980 European championship and the 1994 World Cup – Greece are finally hoping to make their mark in Portugal. They play the hosts, Spain and Russia in the first round and Rehhagel said a win would cap a successful two years in charge, setting Greece up nicely for their 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign. «We are the outsiders, that’s clear,» Rehhagel told Reuters in an interview yesterday. «We are going there with everything to gain and nothing to lose. If we win one of these games, then that would be a success.» Greece kick off their Group A campaign on June 12 against Portugal in the tournament’s opening match. «Portugal as the hosts are, of course, one of the favorites and Spain are a very good team while Russia are always a side that play good football,» he said. Spain will be looking for revenge against the Greeks, who edged them into second place in their Euro 2004 qualifying group. German Rehhagel, nicknamed «King Otto» in Greece, came to prominence during the late 1980s when his Werder Bremen side gave mighty Bayern Munich a run for their money, winning two Bundesliga titles, two German Cups and the UEFA Cup. However, the decision to leave his home country for one of Europe’s less illustrious national teams seems to have been the right one. After two early defeats in Euro 2004 qualifiers, Greece went on a 15-match unbeaten run. «We are outsiders but we are going there to show why we qualified. If all the players are injury-free and play well, then we can certainly minimize mistakes and put on a good show,» Rehhagel said. Rehhagel will rely heavily on players from Greek league leaders Panathinaikos, AEK and Olympiakos and several foreign-based players, including Stelios Yiannakopoulos of England’s Bolton Wanderers and Atletico Madrid’s Demis Nikolaidis. The German, renowned for his stubborn nature, has instilled a much-needed sense of discipline in the notoriously selfish Greek players. «We want to show youngsters they should play for the national side,» said Rehhagel, who has signed an extension to his contract until 2006. «We have a new generation of players and their experience in Portugal will prove invaluable, looking toward the 2006 World Cup qualifiers starting in September. In order to succeed, we need to have team spirit; team spirit is necessary in every family.»