SPORTS

World Cup bid on target

Greece’s «dizziness» following their stunning triumph at Euro 2004 is slowly clearing and they will qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, according to the country’s football association chief. Greece are second in Group 2 on 14 points, three behind Ukraine and two clear of Turkey with five games left. Their first win came after a defeat by Albania and draws with Turkey and Ukraine. They have since won four qualifiers in a row. «The start was not as good as possible but the Euro victory and the dizziness that followed did not allow players to relax and calm down,» Vassilis Gagatsis said, referring to the hangover after their 1-0 win over Euro 2004 hosts Portugal in the final. «But now we have the target in our sights and we are determined. This will be a very hard year, it’s a grueling schedule but we have trust in our team and we will be there (at Germany 2006),» he told Reuters in an interview. Apart from two World Cup qualifiers in early June away in Turkey and at home to Ukraine, Greece will also play later that month in the Confederations Cup with the champions from six continents plus hosts Germany and World Cup holders Brazil. «The team played football last summer at the Euros, it will play this summer, and it will also play football next summer in Germany,» Gagatsis said. He added that Greece would not release any of its players from their Confederations Cup commitments. Gagatsis is also confident about the Greek federation’s bid to host the 2012 European championship. «We are at the stage where the file is being prepared and where we get the guarantees requested by UEFA. We will make a serious bid and if we are serious then we will have good results,» he said. Greece still needs to add another two stadiums to the six built or refurbished for the 2004 Athens Olympics and Gagatsis would prefer them to be built outside the capital. «Of course, this is a political decision but it would be good to have more regional stadiums and there have been proposals from the cities of Ioannina and Larissa (in western and central Greece),» he said. Italy, Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey have pledged to make solo bids to host the finals while Croatia/Hungary and Poland/Ukraine have opted for joint bids. As for UEFA’s investigation into allegations of match fixing surrounding last December’s UEFA Cup tie between Panionios and Georgia’s Dinamo Tbilisi, Gagatsis said the Athens prosecutor was still examining the evidence. «The UEFA investigation is confidential, but for our part we have asked for a swift examination by the Athens prosecutor and the prosecutor’s investigation should now be in its final stages,» Gagatsis said. European soccer’s ruling body is probing a possible link to Germany’s refereeing scandal in which Berlin-based referee Robert Hoyzer had admitted taking 67,000 euros in bribes to fix games for a Croatian betting ring. «We want a quick resolution of this because… even if nothing is proven there will still be a shadow hanging over soccer,» said Gagatsis.