SPORTS

PM gives blessing to Euro 2012 bid

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday endorsed a plan for Greece to bid for the Euro 2012 soccer competition after the proposal was tabled by the government’s top sporting official and the local soccer federation chief. The decision, an anticipated one, was announced following a meeting between Karamanlis, Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Orfanos, who holds the country’s sports portfolio, and Vassilis Gagatsis, chief at EPO, Greece’s soccer federation. «The prime minister is in favor of a Greek bid for the European Championships in 2012. The aim is to succeed,» Orfanos told reporters, while adding that the government intended to host various other major sporting events to capitalize on the country’s existing Olympics-related infrastructure. A day earlier, Orfanos had said that Greece was already well on the way toward being fully prepared to stage the European Championships. He noted that Greece already possessed seven of eight required stadiums, which, he admitted, needed certain adjustments. The national team’s sensational triumph in Portugal last summer and the country’s success at organizing the Athens Olympics are the prime factors behind Greece’s interest in staging Euro 2012. The bidding competition is expected to be exceptionally tough. There is reason behind this: Germany’s successful bid for the upcoming World Cup finals in 2006. Anticipating the interest of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to take future World Cup finals to other world regions as part of sustaining or building interest in the game, traditional European soccer powers do not expect the World Cup finals to return to the Continent for quite some time. With the 2008 Euro event already taken by Austria and Switzerland as co-hosts, Europe’s major soccer powers can be expected to focus on Euro 2012. Meanwhile, the coach of one of Europe’s less illustrious soccer nations, Sergey Timofeev, whose team Kazakhstan takes on Greece in a World Cup qualifier next Wednesday in Athens, acknowledged yesterday that his side, nowadays pooled in European competition, not Asian, as was the case until recently, faced a stiffer task. «Kazakhstan’s team is new in official European competition. With all respect for Asian soccer, we must accept that European standards are incomparably higher,» noted Timofeev. His national team was accepted into FIFA in 1994, three years after the former Soviet state declared its independence. Kazakhstan took part in qualifiers for the 1998 and 2002 World Cup finals in the Asian pool of qualifiers. Drawn with Greece in the European zone’s Group 2, Kazakhstan, placed last, has failed to earn a point after three rounds. Greece is second from last with two points from as many games, well behind group leader Ukraine on eight points from four games. Turkey and Albania follow with six points from four games. Denmark and Georgia, both with a game less, are on five and four points respectively. European group winners qualify for the World Cup finals automatically, while six runners-up will do battle in three home-and-away playoff matches for three additional berths. «I would say that our group includes many strong sides. Who would have expected Albania, after four games, to be in third place and Greece, the European champion, second from last?» Timofeev remarked. Tickets for Wednesday’s match, at the recently reconstructed Karaiskaki Stadium, have already sold out, Greece’s soccer federation announced yesterday.