SPORTS

Rehhagel, focused on Greece’s Euro ’04 quarterfinal, evades talk of the future

The only German left trying to win Euro 2004 is Greek national team coach, Otto Rehhagel. The 65-year-old hopes to keep it that way when his team faces defending champions France in the quarterfinals tonight. «It is normal that there are some surprises,» Rehhagel said at a press conference in the Portuguese capital on the eve of the match. «The best teams usually get to the finals, but the qualifying phase always brings some surprises.» Indeed, Greece is still in the tournament with a fighting chance, while powerhouses Germany, Italy and Spain are all out. Rehhagel, who has been at the Greek helm for three years, refused to comment on the elimination of his countrymen. «I have been hired by the Greek soccer federation to work and to have success with this team and that’s what matters for me.» He also refused to comment as to whether he would be a candidate to replace Rudi Voller as the German boss following the resignation of the man who guided Germany to the 2002 World Cup final. Rehhagel, 65, said he was solely focused on Greece’s Euro 2004 quarterfinal clash. «I’m only concentrating on Greece, I want to do my best for them,» said Rehhagel, known as «King Otto» after winning two German championships, two German Cups and the UEFA Cup with Werder Bremen in a 14-year reign. Voller resigned yesterday after the three-time European champions crashed out of Euro 2004 «After long consideration, I have decided to step down,» an emotional Voller told a news conference the day after his side was eliminated at the group stage following a 2-1 defeat by a second-string Czech Republic side. Rehhagel refused to discuss possible tactical maneuvers his team may have in store for the French, who finished first in Group B, ahead of England. However, he did say that the pent-up pressure that hampered his team against Russia in the final Group A match had significantly dropped, a factor that boosts his team’s chances of pulling off another upset. Greece shocked host Portugal 2-1 and came from behind to hold Spain to a 1-1 draw. All the team needed was a draw with the already eliminated Russians, who had lost both opening games to progress to the quarterfinals. Greece lost 2-1, but luckily squeezed into the final eight on the virtue of a higher goal-scoring tally than Spain. The trouble for France will be how to beat a team that already considers itself a winner. Greece had never won a single match at a major international tournament before Euro 2004. The team made it to Euro 1980 and the 1994 World Cup, only to bow out miserably each time. «We are already winners,» said Rehhagel, who has melded Greek creativity with a strong German work ethic. «We have already achieved what we dreamed about. France is the reigning champion of Europe, their players come from the toughest leagues, are at the best physical age and nurture great playing combinations. It is really a big achievement just to be playing against them.» (AP, AFP)