SPORTS

Euro 2004 Group 6 qualifiers to meet in Athens to sort out schedule

A meeting to determine the schedule of Euro 2004 qualifiers in Group 6, which has drawn together Greece, Armenia, Northern Ireland, Spain and Ukraine, will be held in Athens on March 11, UEFA, the sport’s European governing body, announced yesterday. Delegations representing the five national teams will meet in a venue in Athens – as yet unnamed – to decide the order of matches, which, according to UEFA’s program, will begin this coming September and end in October next year. Should negotiations collapse over unbridgeable differences, UEFA will most probably intervene to determine the fixtures itself. Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Greece’s coach, Otto Rehhagel, did voice some of his preferences for Greek negotiators to take note of ahead of their March 11 talks. An opening match at home against the group’s least accomplished side, Armenia, Rehhagel suggested, would be warmly received, as would the avoidance of away matches in the cold climates of Armenia and Ukraine deep in the winter season. Rehhagel also told the news conference that the small and rowdy Leoforos Alexandras stadium in downtown Athens, whose narrow gap between pitch and stands helps generate an electric atmosphere, would be a good option for his team’s home games, as opposed to the far larger Olympic Stadium. Traditionally the home ground of the Panathinaikos club, the stadium’s jam-packed stands this season did help the team advance to the second phase of Europe’s premier club-level competition, the Champions League, in commanding fashion. Leoforos Alexandras was also the venue where Greece humbled the seemingly invincible Soviet Union 1-0 in 1979 to earn its first – and only – berth for the following year’s Euro Finals. The national team’s German coach also told yesterday’s news conference that his players ought to be guided by last year’s superb performance against England in a World Cup qualifier at Old Trafford, soon after Rehhagel had assumed his post. England equalized in injury time for a 2-2 score and a place at this summer’s World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea. Rehhagel was signed on by the Greek soccer federation after the national team’s hopes for a place at the World Cup finals had evaporated, and assigned the unenviable task of reviving an uncoordinated, demoralized, and undisciplined side. At yesterday’s press conference, Rehhagel said that the team’s core would be composed mainly of players from the country’s bigger clubs in Athens and Thessaloniki. «I’m a supporter of the view that the lineup of a national team must consist of many players playing with the same club,» Rehhagel noted, no doubt as part of his plan to bolster the side’s cohesion. Up front, however, Rehhagel will be relying on a patchwork of strikers, namely AEK’s lethal striker Demis Nikolaidis, whom the German coach persuaded to rejoin the national team after the player had abandoned it, Angelos Charisteas, who signed from Aris to German club Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos’s Nikos Lymberopoulos, and Ajax Amsterdam’s Nikos Machlas. In no mood for reckless players in his squad, Rehhagel reiterated yesterday that Inter’s Grigoris Georgatos was history. The former Olympiakos player, who joined the Italian club Inter last year, had clashed with Rehhagel over the latter’s decision to use him as a substitute in a match. «I hear he does not even play for his club,» Rehhagel said.