SPORTS

Greece ready for encounter with Brazil

When Greece surprisingly won the Euro 2004 competition last summer, the squad’s fans proudly called for a match-up with world champions Brazil. Greece had met the world champions only once – back on April 28, 1974, when they held the home team to a scoreless draw in a friendly game watched by 100,000 spectators at Maracana Stadium. On Thursday, Greek fans will get their wish when their team faces Brazil in Group B of the Confederations Cup. With the Euro title Greece’s only claim to fame after a disastrous showing in its only World Cup appearance in 1994 – when it lost all three matches and failed to score – the team’s coach Otto Rehhagel is getting his team ready for this lifelong vision. «We do not play against Brazil every day,» Rehhagel said. «Brazil is the standard against which everything is measured. The game between Greece and Brazil is very important. We have already shown that everything is possible. We are ready. Participation here is a great opportunity for Greek soccer.» Asked whether he thought Greece stood a chance against the perennial soccer powerhouse, Rehhagel said: «Brazil are obviously an exceptionally tough proposition. But ever since our triumph in Portugal, we’ve noticed our opponents take a different attitude and pay us a lot more respect. My players have earned that respect, and they deserve it, too. Since then, they have had to prove they can cope with the title and the recognition. And, in the meantime, we’ve got it well under control.» Rehhagel admitted that the task of qualifying for World Cup 2006 was more important for his team – last week’s 1-0 home loss to Ukraine left them in third place and in a scrap for the all-important second spot. Captain Theodoros Zagorakis joined his teammates yesterday and will be available for the opener against World Cup champion Brazil, spokesman Michael Tsapidis said. Zagorakis, hero of Greece’s triumph at last year’s European Championship, was released by his Italian club Bologna although it still has two relegation playoff games against Parma. Another Italy-based midfielder, Giorgos Karagounis, also has joined the team after getting the green light from Inter Milan following its 2-0 first-leg victory over AS Roma in the Italian Cup final. But striker Zissis Vryzas is nursing a left-arm injury. Rehhagel said there was a «great atmosphere» in his squad despite reports that some players were angry for not getting the full bonuses promised after the unexpected victory at Euro 2004. «Brazil is a great team and we respect them,» defender Yiannis Goumas said.«But that doesn’t mean we won’t try and beat them.» Brazil defender Belletti was sent home from Germany yesterday because of an Achilles’ tendon injury. Sao Paulo’s Cicinho is to stand in for the FC Barcelona defender in Brazil’s opening game, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. Brazil called Maicon of French side Monaco from vacation to fill the gap in the squad. Parreira exempted Cafu, the first-choice player for the right-back position, from the tournament. Thursday’s match between Greece and Brazil game is a 44,000 sellout, the organizers of the tournament said yesterday. The Group B match will take place in the refurbished Zentralstadion in Leipzig, the only city in the former communist East Germany to host matches in this tournament and next year’s World Cup. The sellout shows the huge interest in Germany in the Confederations Cup, a tournament often criticized by clubs who are reluctant to allow their top stars to compete in what they see as a largely meaningless competition. However, only 15,000 tickets had been sold by yesterday for the Group A match between Tunisia and Australia, which will also be played in Leipzig, on June 21. Leipzig will also host the third-place playoff on June 29. (AFP, AP)