Karagounis joins Portuguese champions Benfica from Inter

Greek midfielder Giorgos Karagounis has joined Benfica from Inter Milan on a three-year contract, the Portuguese champions said yesterday. The 28-year-old, who scored the opening goal of Euro 2004 in Portugal against the host nation, was one of two players sought by Benfica’s new Dutch coach Ronald Koeman to reinforce his squad. No financial details of the deal were given. Benfica have made their worst start to the season since 1977, with one draw and one defeat and no goals in two games. Also yesterday, Glasgow Rangers signed Greece international Sotiris Kyrgiakos to a one-year contract. The 26-year-old central defender first joined the Rangers in January on loan from Greek club Panathinaikos, helping the club win the Scottish title and Scottish League Cup. Besides their new club-level deals, both Karagounis and Kyrgiakos need to keep their minds on Greece’s upcoming World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan on September 7. After securing just one point from its previous two games earlier this summer – the national team drew away against Turkey and lost at home to Ukraine – Greece has slipped to third place in the European qualifying zone’s Group 2, eight points behind breakaway leader Ukraine. With three rounds remaining, Ukraine appears virtually certain to capture the group’s top spot and automatic qualification for next summer’s World Cup finals in Germany. Undefeated with seven wins and two draws, Ukraine leads with 23 points. Greece is third with 15 points – one less than Turkey and eight less than Ukraine. Denmark is fourth with 12 points and a game in hand. These four teams will likely fight for Group 2’s second place, which provides another chance at qualification. Of the European zone’s eight qualifying groups, the two runners-up with the best records advance to the finals, while the remaining six do battle in home-and-away playoffs for three more berths. «We have to win, that’s it. This is a crucial game,» said defender Michalis Kapsis. Greece coach Otto Rehhagel yesterday recalled Olympiakos defender Giorgos Anatolakis to the squad after a six-year absence. The 31-year-old’s call-up was the only surprise in the squad, whose 20 players include 14 from last year’s European Championship-winning squad. «It’s an honor to be invited to the national team,» Anatolakis said. «Despite my absence, I’ve always felt I was by the team’s side.» Anatolakis, who made the last of his 10 international appearances in 1999 against Finland, fills in for injured defenders Traianos Dellas and Yiannis Goumas. (Reuters, AP, Kathimerini)