SPORTS

Rehhagel agrees to carry on

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel has agreed to stay on with the European Champions for another two years, hoping to lead them in defense of their title. «The renewal of our cooperation is something all of Greece has been waiting for,» said Greek Soccer Federation President Vassilis Gagatsis. «We want Otto Rehhagel. We made an early offer because we believe he will once again lead us where all Greeks hope to go.»  The 2008 tournament, for which Greece needs to qualify, will be co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland. «I had other offers,» Rehhagel said. «(But) my heart was here with the Greek national team… The entire time I worked here, we developed a personal relationship.»  Rehhagel, whose extension will make him the longest-serving national coach in Greece, took over an unfancied side in 2001 and led it to a stunning European championship victory in Portugal last year. However, the team failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals after finishing fourth in its group last month. «We were all really disappointed that we didn’t qualify. I wanted their assurance that we would give it 100 percent to qualify for Euro 2008 and I had that assurance,» Rehhagel said. In 53 games under Rehhagel, Greece has won 27 matches, drawn 13 and lost 13, by far the team’s best coaching record. Even before the squad’s victory in the final against host Portugal in July 2004, the FA had offered Rehhagel an extension of his contract that runs out at the end of the year. «Of course this is a great day for Greek soccer,» said midfielder Stelios Giannakopoulos, following the announcement of the deal. «We have to celebrate that he is staying on because he is best equipped to stay in charge of the team. This coach is looking forward with a clear mind and has great experience,» he added. Throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign, the Greece team showed only occasional glimpses of the poise and grit that led them to staging one of the biggest upsets in the game. But Rehhagel, affectionately know as «King Otto,» was spared the usual fiery criticism reserved for national team coaches and a poll taken hours after failing to qualify showed 88 percent of Greeks were in favor of him staying on. (Reuters)