SPORTS

Victory a must, Rehhagel notes

Greece must beat Kazakhstan in Athens tonight to keep their 2006 World Cup qualification hopes alive, coach Otto Rehhagel warned yesterday. «We are the favorites and we must win tomorrow, there’s no other way,» Rehhagel told reporters of the European Group Two match. «Tomorrow, victory is obligatory.» After their stunning triumph at Euro 2004 Greece have struggled to live up to their billing as European champions and are second from bottom, six points behind leaders Ukraine, having taken only two points from their first three matches. Kazakhstan are bottom with no points. Front runner Ukraine, on eight points, and second-placed Turkey and Albania, on six points apiece, have all played an additional fourth game. «Our boys had not played many matches when the qualifiers started. Now they have a rhythm and this rhythm must be evident in the match tomorrow,» Rehhagel said. Greece suffered a shock away defeat by Albania in their first match before the domestic season started, and only managed draws against Turkey and Ukraine. More than 33,000 fans are expected in the Karaiskaki Stadium tonight and Rehhagel hopes to reward them with an attacking performance. «But it must be a smart attacking game because we have a tough defensive team to play against,» Rehhagel said. Traianos Dellas, Stelios Yiannakopoulos and Dimitris Papadopoulos have slight injuries but Rehhagel said they have not yet been ruled out of the squad. «We will go in with a strong team and fight until the end,» added Rehhagel. «The truth is on the pitch and that is where we must prove our worth.» Asked whether the Greek players are frustrated by their disappointing start in the World Cup campaign, Rehhagel, with a dose of humor, said they had nothing to worry about. «Their psychological condition must be excellent because all the boys are good-looking, they have beautiful wives and earn lots of money,» he said. Captain Thodoris Zagorakis will win his 100th international cap, a first for any Greek player. «I’ll talk about my 100 caps when I reach my objective. The accomplishments so far have been good, but the national team will need to do well if there is to be any continuity,» Zagorakis said. «We got off to a bad start and things have become tougher. Our objective is a first win in the preliminaries so that we can hope to qualify,» he added. Though tonight’s match at Karaiskaki Stadium was declared a sellout by match officials several days ago, some 800 tickets, leftovers from Thessaloniki and various provincial cities, will be available at the venue’s box office this morning from 10 a.m. In another crucial Group 2 match tonight, second-placed Turkey will greet front runner Ukraine, hoping to overcome a two-point gap. Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin has dropped three players from his squad after they turned up to training several hours late. A team’s spokesman said Alexander Zotov and Viacheslav Checher and Serhiy Zakarlyuka were sent home after reporting for duty in the middle of the night. The spokesman did not say why the players turned up late. Fourth-placed Denmark, on five points from three games, will look to stay in the hunt for the one automatic qualifying place by beating Georgia away. Albania has a bye. (Reuters, Kathimerini)