National team’s popularity goes to charity

Making the most of the astounding popularity generated by its Euro 2004 triumph in Portugal last summer for a worthy cause, Greece has committed itself to a fund-raising charity match this afternoon at Kaftantzogleio Stadium in Thessaloniki against a mixed team consisting of players from the city’s four first-division clubs, Apollon Kalamaria, Aris, Iraklis and PAOK. Organizers said all funds raised from the game’s 15-euro tickets will go to Thessaloniki-based humanitarian groups. Moreover, the Greek squad’s members have decided to offer their month’s earnings – for services to the national team – to the charity fund. «It’s a great joy for us to be back in Thessaloniki again after a long time and offer love to our fellow-citizens by taking part in a soccer celebration,» commented midfielder Vassilis Tsiartas, who recently signed with German second-division club Koln, a favorite for promotion to the Bundesliga. «We’ll take the opportunity to parade the cup won in Portugal, which belongs to all Greeks,» he added. Tsiartas described the national team’s commitment to tonight’s charity game as a spontaneous decision based on human understanding. «Not all people in life have equal opportunities and we need to help when they’re going through difficult times,» Tsiartas said. The majority of players that took part in Greece’s successful Euro 2004 campaign will be present. Coach Otto Rehhagel has also called up Demis Nikolaidis, who retired following the tournament in Portugal to take over presidential duties at Athens club AEK. Also selected were two new faces, striker Vangelis Matzios, a star performer this season with first-division club Panionios, AEK’s Vangelis Moras, and Iraklis player Pantelis Kapetanos. Angelos Charisteas, a key scorer for Greece in Portugal, whose input included the winning goal in the final against the host nation, will be missing. The player, who traveled with the national squad to Thessaloniki to prepare for today’s match, was given special permission to fly to Amsterdam for negotiations over a possible transfer to Ajax from German Bundesliga defending champions Werder Bremen, where he has not been a first-choice striker this season. According to some reports, Ajax is likely to announce the player’s acquisition today. Others sources were more reserved. «We’ve spoken to Ajax and they have expressed an interest,» Klaus Allofs, Werder Bremen’s sporting director, told German news agency SID yesterday, Reuters reported. «Now we have to wait and see what this interest means in figures,» he added. Charisteas won the double with Werder Bremen last season. This season, he has scored five times in 11 Bundesliga games and added one goal in the Champions League. Just weeks ago, Rehhagel embarrassed Werder Bremen officials by publicly remarking that Charisteas ought to look for another club if his current team was not willing to use the gifted striker’s services on a more regular basis. Should a deal be sealed, Charisteas will join compatriot and fellow striker Yiannis Anastasiou, a former OFI player who transferred to Dutch club Roda JC before eventually moving to Ajax. «I think he will manage. When the team’s doing well, so will he… But Ajax fans will be demanding. They consider him to be [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic’s successor,» said Anastasiou, referring to the Swedish international who recently moved to Juventus. «Fans pay lots of attention to the number of goals scored by a striker. I think eight to 10 goals in a season would please them. He’ll have to prove his worth, otherwise he’ll sit on the bench. He knows what to expect and is prepared.»