SPORTS

Playing ‘in a war zone’

TEL AVIV – Seeking a place at next year’s 33rd Eurobasket Championships in Sweden, the national team, which remains undefeated in its qualifying group after four rounds, will need to overcome the heat both on and off the court in Israel, where the Greek squad arrived yesterday ahead of tonight’s crucial encounter against the home team. Greece’s coach, Yiannis Ioannidis, and his team manager, Nikos Filippou, a member of the national side who was crowned European champion in 1987, were just three kilometers (two miles) from the latest round of fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that erupted yesterday in Jerusalem. A Palestinian gunman wounded at least 20 Israelis in a rush-hour shooting spree in Jerusalem’s main shopping street in response to the killings of four Palestinians in Nablus by Israeli soldiers. The two Greek squad officials traveled to Jerusalem, located 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Israeli capital, shortly after Greece’s 68-member delegation, including journalists, arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. Ioannidis, a frequent visitor to Israel in previous years as coach of Greek teams competing in European club-level competition – which includes Israeli teams – has made a habit of traveling to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem before games on each of his trips to Israel. Filippou, the team’s manager, who joined Ioannidis on this occasion, was evidently shaken by the latest wave of terror. «You think you’re in a war zone. You don’t even have the time to get scared,» Filippou, who swiftly returned to Tel Aviv following the bloody incident, told reporters. The news gave the Greek team’s coach the added task of comforting his players ahead of tonight’s clash. «Don’t worry. We’re here to do our job,» Ioannidis told his players during yesterday afternoon’s training session. All 10,000 tickets for the match, at Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliahu Stadium have been sold in advance. Theoretically, Israel and Spain are Greece’s two toughest group rivals, competing for two berths at next summer’s Eurobasket finals. The group also includes three less-favored opponents, Belgium, Denmark, and Romania. Commenting on tonight’s opponent, Ioannidis acknowledged that the game would not be easy. «Israel doesn’t have the height, but plays zone defense with a lot of shoving. We’ve got to be careful with our defense, because, depending on the refereeing, we may be on the receiving end of many surprises,» Ioannidis said. «The absence of Yiannis Yiannoulis, who is tailor-made for this particular match, is heavy,» he added. Yiannoulis, a forward/center playing for Panathinaikos, is out with a hematoma in the abdominal area.Greek television, including state-run ERT, has decided to give the clash a miss.