SPORTS

There’s plenty to gain and little to lose

After scrambling through to the quarterfinals of the European Soccer Championships Sunday night following a 2-1 loss to Russia, the Greek squad is now focused on its next challenge, most likely France, on Friday. Greece, which ended second in Group A, will face the winner of Group B, whose final standings were still in progress late last night. All four teams – France, England, Croatia and Switzerland – were still in contention for a quarterfinal place, but group leader France, up against bottom-placed Switzerland, was widely considered to maintain top spot. No doubt, Greece, through to the next phase of a major competition for the first time in its history, will go into its quarterfinal battle as the underdog. «From here on, things are simpler for us because we’re the outsiders,» Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel said yesterday, while adding that his side had little to lose and plenty to gain, an approach he will attempt to instill into his players in coming days. Rehhagel’s remarks were reiterated by goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis. «We were and still are the underdogs, regardless of our opponent. The match against Russia illustrated that there is no easy team in this tournament,» said Nikopolidis. Russia lost to both Portugal and Spain before grabbing three consolatory points with its win against Greece. «We wanted to enjoy all three [group] games and the festivities here. We took advantage of the results and managed to qualify. You can be sure that if more opportunities arise, we will take advantage of them,» Nikopolidis added. Yesterday, the day after Greece’s qualification, Rehhagel gave his entire squad a break. The team, however, did fly from Faro, the coastal town in Portugal’s south, to Lisbon, where Greece’s quarterfinal game will be played. Should the national team manage what is widely considered a miracle and get through Friday’s knock-out quarterfinal clash, it will relocate to Faro, where one of the competition’s two semifinals will be played. Otherwise, the squad returns to Athens on Saturday. Zissis Vryzas, whose goal against the Russians proved crucial in getting Greece through to the next phase on a better goal average than the Spaniards – both teams were tied with four points – will miss the quarterfinal after being shown a second yellow card on Sunday. Giorgos Karagounis, who launched Greece’s impressive campaign at the European Championships by opening the scoring in his side’s shock 2-1 win against host Portugal in the competition’s opener, will be available for selection after serving a one-game suspension for two yellow cards received in Greece’s games against Portugal and Spain. Karagounis, who watched his team go down to the Russians from the stands, could not resist joining his teammates on the pitch for post-match celebrations after news of the group’s other concurrent game (Portugal-Spain, 1-0) had filtered through and assured Greece’s quarterfinal berth. Greek team officials, however, reacted quickly to get the jubilant player off the ground, who was out of bounds due to the one-game suspension. Whether key midfielder Stelios Yiannacopoulos, striving to overcome a muscle strain, will be ready for Friday’s match will depend on the player’s progress during the week. Yiannacopoulos missed Greece’s match against Russia after suffering an injury against the Spaniards.