SPORTS

Greek captain named Euro 2004’s best

Theodoros Zagorakis, who captained Greece to win its first European Championship on Sunday, was selected as the Player of the Tournament on Monday and was one of five Greeks chosen for Euro 2004’s All-Star team. The 32-year-old AEK midfielder was selected by the European soccer federation’s (UEFA) technical study group of coaches and technical experts, including Gerard Houllier, Holger Osieck, Jozef Venglos, Berti Vogts and Andy Roxburgh, after consulting a poll of fans on the tournament’s official website. Zagorakis played every minute for Greece, including during their three knockout-round matches in which he didn’t permit a goal against them, and «was an inspirational figure in Greece’s astonishing march to the European title,» UEFA said. He was joined by goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, defenders Traianos Dellas and Yourkas Seitaridis and forward Angelos Charisteas on the 23-player tournament select team. European Championship runner-up Portugal and England each had four players selected, including Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. A senior official at AEK soccer club told reporters yesterday that Zagorakis, UEFA’s player of the tournament, has signed for Italy’s Bologna. The Greece captain has not commented on his future plans since securing his release from debt-crippled AEK. Bologna finished 12th in Series A last season. Zagorakis, 33, will lead an exodus of Greece stars out of the club which risks losing its professional status due to debt. Spain’s Atletico Madrid have also declared an interest in the ex-Leicester City player, according to local media reports. AEK has one week to announce a financial rescue plan or face relegation to the amateur division. All five of Greece’s AEK-based players have formally demanded to be released from their contracts, with many players unpaid since January. Greece striker Demis Nikolaidis spearheaded a consortium that attempted to take over the Athens club last month but has so far failed to stave off creditors, including the Greek State demanding unpaid taxes. A power struggle appears to be looming. A controversial star trial lawyer, Alexis Kouyias, claimed yesterday, in a news conference, to control the majority of shares in the club, whose control was hitherto believed to rest in the hands of the group of investors led by Nikolaidis. Kouyias, who has headed AEK once in the past, said he would lead an alternative takeover bid that was working on a rescue plan to be announced next week. Crippled by debt to other teams and the Greek State, AEK Athens has been teetering on the verge of financial collapse for more than a year. And during Euro 2004, an Athens court turned down a request by the Nikolaidis group to cancel much of its debt. AEK officials frantically looked for a way to settle the club’s debt in time for the team to participate in next year’s competitions, including the UEFA Cup, before it is deserted by its players. It looks likely that the Greek State will agree to long-term repayment of AEK’s debt. Most Greek soccer clubs are short of funds and stand to benefit from a general debt-rescheduling program that Greece’s conservative government is currently working on. But if AEK officials’ efforts fail, the team could be relegated to amateur status. AEK is Greece’s third-biggest team in terms of championship titles and popularity, after Olympiakos and Panathinaikos. (AP, Reuters, AFP)