World Cup hopes virtually gone

Greece’s hopes of making the playoffs for a berth at next summer’s World Cup finals were virtually wiped out Saturday night in Copenhagen following the national team’s 1-0 loss against Denmark. Ukraine has already secured the top spot and its berth. To end second in Group 2 – for a home-and-away play-off encounter that leads to the World Cup finals – Greece now needs to beat lowly Georgia in its final group match at Karaiskaki Stadium this Wednesday and hope that Turkey loses against Albania in Tirana and Denmark drops points away against last-placed Kazakhstan. Backed by a crowd of 42,099 at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium, Denmark pressed hard. Dennis Rommedahl had already forced Antonis Nikopolidis into a fingertip save when an unguarded Michael Gravgaard headed a 39th-minute corner past the goalkeeper. Both sides had good second-half chances, Soeren Larsen forcing Nikopolidis into an extra-time save with a header. Commenting on the national team’s future, Vassilis Gagatsis, the Greek soccer federation chief, said he felt that coach Otto Rehhagel, who led Greece to last summer’s astonishing Euro 2004 triumph, wanted to carry on with his job. Not long after Greece was crowned European champion, Rehhagel had declined an offer to assume the coaching of Germany’s national team. As host nation of next year’s World Cup finals, Germany qualified automatically. «I don’t think I need to convince him. I think that he, too, wants to stay. We’re proud of this team and the coach who has provided us with major moments,» Gagatsis said. «Our proposal for Rehagel was, is and will be the same – to stay on for two more years.» When asked about his future, Rehhagel, at Saturday’s post-match news conference said: «We play against Georgia on Wednesday. That’s my future. I’ll discuss with the president. We’ll see.» Responding to a reporter’s question, Rehhagel said he had not regretted refusing Germany’s offer last summer. As for his team’s derailed World Cup campaign Rehhagel said the squad needed to overcome numerous absences due to injury. «I had all the players at my disposal in Portugal, but not for these qualifiers,» remarked Rehhagel. «If we had [Traianos] Dellas [on Saturday], we may not have conceded that goal.»  Admitting that the Danes deserved to win, Rehhagel noted that, once again, Greece lacked spark up front. The team recently slogged through a six-game scoring drought. In other group action Saturday night, 14 teams qualified for next year’s World Cup, with England, Italy and the Netherlands leading the way in Europe. Three other European teams also made it on Saturday – Portugal, Croatia and Poland – while Ukraine and host Germany had already advanced. All five African spots were also filled, with Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Angola qualifying for the first time. Tunisia claimed the final spot from the region. Also, Paraguay and Ecuador joined already-qualified Brazil and Argentina from South America, while Costa Rica beat the United States 3-0 to earn the third berth out of its zone. Mexico and the US have already qualified. Four Asian teams – Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea – have already qualified. (Kathimerini, AP)