SPORTS

Rehhagel confident of qualification hopes

The national soccer team’s coach, Otto Rehhagel, in remarks made over the weekend during a trip to Australia, expressed his confidence that Greece, gaining ground from a slow start in its World Cup qualifying campaign, would make it to next year’s finals in Germany. Rehhagel, whose team currently lies second in the European zone’s Group 2, three points behind front-runner Ukraine, said Greece’s next two encounters would be crucial. Greece plays Turkey, placed third and two points behind, on June 4, and then hosts Ukraine at Karaiskaki Stadium four days later. «We’ve got two finals to play against Turkey and Ukraine, and all is possible,» said Rehhagel. «Turkey should be under pressure because, against us, they will be playing their last card. The pressure, then, will be on them,» he added. Commenting on Greece’s sensational triumph at Euro 2004, Rehhagel said he had told his players to remain stress-free as they had nothing to lose but plenty to gain. «It was always the first bit of advice I gave them,» said Rehhagel. «Of course, I approached every opponent with a different strategy. You play differently against France than you do against the Czech Republic. Each country has its good and bad points. That’s where you must hit,» he added, referring to the two opponents Greece defeated in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, at Euro 2004. As for the national team’s not-too-distant future, Rehhagel said the country’s leading soccer officials would need to start nurturing younger talent. «At present, the average age of my players is 28. They’re very capable and know how to play. But Greece’s soccer leadership will need to take care of the younger boys, especially those between 22 and 24,» Rehhagel advised. «At some point, before I leave Greece, we will need to lay the foundations together for the next generation. Greece is a small nation but it produced its miracle and musn’t let go.»