SPORTS

Relaxed ahead of semifinal clash

Eager and cheerful, the Greeks started preparations yesterday for their Euro 2004 semifinal on Thursday, the biggest game in the nation’s history. «The feeling is getting better every day,» said midfielder Stylianos Giannakopoulos after the team’s first light workout since shocking defending champion France 1-0 in Friday’s quarterfinal. «It’s a good spirit. We all play for each other, we all love each other,» said Giannakopoulos, Greece’s only injury worry, but who is progressing well ahead of Thursday’s match. «There’s nothing greater than beating a side like France, when you beat the [former] world champion,» Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel said. «Now the players will be totally liberated on the pitch,» he added when asked about Greece’s chances of reaching the final. In its semifinal, Greece will play either the Czech Republic or Denmark – they met in a quarterfinal late last night – in Porto on Thursday in what has become a fairytale ride for a country that had never won a match before at a major tournament before beating Euro 2004 hosts Portugal in the opening clash. Amid the euphoria, the 65-year-old Rehhagel, on Saturday, said he had no intention of deserting Greece for Germany’s post. «I am going to stay with the Greeks, unless they say that’s enough,» Rehhagel told German television. «I don’t break contracts, I can’t ditch these people. That would be impossible.» Rudi Voeller resigned last week after his team failed to qualify for Euro 2004’s quarterfinals. Rehhagel was mentioned as a candidate to succeed him. «There remains a target: to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany and perform in the same manner once we get there,» said Rehhagel. Werder Bremen striker Angelos Charisteas scored Greece’s winner against the French in the 66th minute with an impressive header to break France’s 22-match unbeaten streak. Early in the game, after 15 minutes, midfielder Giorgos Karagounis swung in a free kick and Costas Katsouranis turned the ball onto the post with Barthez stranded. But he recovered to stop the ball on the line. France responded with a neat move down the left, with Zinedine Zidane putting Bixente Lizarazu through. From the defender’s cross, Thierry Henry headed wide. Barthez tipped over a dipping 25-yard shot from Takis Fyssas in the 37th minute. France began the second half positively and Henry fired narrowly wide from close range with an acrobatic shot on the turn. Lizarazu burst through the Greek defense in the 57th minute but was unable to line up a shot. In the 87th minute, French hopes disappeared as Henry, meeting Lilian Thuram’s cross from the right, placed his header wide, wasting his team’s last chance. (AP, AFP)