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Rehhagel undecided about his future

With Greece’s chances of an appearance at next summer’s World Cup finals in Germany virtually vanished following last Saturday’s 1-0 loss in Denmark, the attention has now focused on whether coach Otto Rehhagel will stay on. Responding to questions about his future at a news conference yesterday, ahead of the national team’s final qualifier tonight, at home against Georgia, Rehhagel did not offer any clear-cut intentions. «Why so much fuss? My contract expires at the end of the year,» Rehhagel said. «This is a very important decision that concerns my life. I can’t decide so quickly… There’s a match to be played against Georgia and that’s the priority. That’s the most important thing for the time being. Let’s not take the second step before the first,» he added. Rehhagel, who led Greece to last summer’s shock triumph at Euro 2004, said he would discuss the issue with his players and the Greek soccer federation’s board members before deciding. Vassilis Gagatsis, the chief of Greece’s soccer federation, has already extended an offer to Rehhagel for a further two years at the national team’s helm. The players, too, have expressed their desire for Rehhagel to carry on, while polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of the Greek public wants the German to continue. Despite Greece’s slim hopes of capturing second spot in its qualifying group for a play-off berth that leads to next year’s finals, Rehhagel hinted that he had not yet given up. «None of us have said that match against Georgia will be this national team’s farewell bid. A friendly game has been scheduled for November, and there’s a possibility that we may reach the play-offs,» Rehhagel said. Greece would become only the third European champions failing to qualify for the World Cup finals after 1976 champions Czechoslovakia missed out on a place in Argentina in 1978 and 1992 champions Denmark missed out on the USA finals in 1994. Shortly after leading Greece to last year’s European title in Portugal, Rehhagel rejected an offer to lead Germany at next summer’s World Cup finals. As host nation, Germany qualified automatically. In the European zone’s Group 2, Ukraine has already clinched top spot and its berth for the finals. Second-placed Turkey, on 20 points, which plays away against Albania tonight, is most likely to capture the second spot for a play-off berth. Denmark, a point behind, also plays away, against Kazakhstan, which is at the bottom of Group 2 with 10 losses and a draw. Greece, on 18 points, greets Georgia. To make the play-offs, Greece must win and hope that Albania beats Turkey and Denmark drops points. «We are looking only for one result – victory,» said Albania coach Hans-Peter Briegel. «There will be no compromise and we shall be looking for a win. We shall play our game without thinking to favor anyone.» Commenting yesterday on the Tirana clash, Turkey’s coach Fatih Terim noted, «If Turkey doesn’t win against Albania, we better not go to Germany at all for the 2006 finals.» Six Turkish players – Emre Belozoglu, Serhat Akin, Nihat Kahveci, Huseyin Cimsir, Serkan Balci and Okan Buruk – are questionable for the match because of injury. For Denmark, one of the stars against Greece, Real Madrid midfielder Thomas Gravesen, will be out of action in Almaty because he received a second yellow card in that game. Coach Morten Olsen could replace him with Soeren Larsen, who scored twice against Georgia last month, or Daniel Jensen. Seven European teams have already qualified to join hosts Germany in the finals – those being the Netherlands, Ukraine, Portugal, Italy, Poland, England, and Croatia – while Norway has a guaranteed play-off place. The only issue still to be resolved in South America is the three-way fight for fifth place between Uruguay, on 22 points, Colombia and Chile, which both have a point less, for the right to face Australia in the two-legged November play-off for a place in the finals. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Ecuador have all qualified from the group. The draw for the European play-offs takes place in Zurich on Friday. All five play-offs will be played on November 12 and November 16 with the draw for the finals in Leipzig, Germany, on December 9. (Kathimerini, AP, Reuters)