Greece beats Hungary 2-1 in friendly game

Greece beat Hungary 2-1 in a low-key friendly on Wednesday night when most of the cheers were reserved for coach Otto Rehhagel, who renewed his contract with the European champions earlier in the week. The match was also a battle between two German coaches – Hungary’s Lothar Matthaeus, 44, who captained West Germany to World Cup victory in 1990, and the 67-year-old Rehhagel. Stelios Giannakopoulos put the Greeks ahead in the 31st minute, tapping in a perfect cross from Dimitris Salpingidis after surging down the left wing. It was the Bolton Wanderers midfielder’s 11th goal in 58 games for Greece. Hungary almost equalized in the 36th when a blistering shot from Zoltan Boor was superbly saved by Greek keeper Antonis Nikopolidis. The match appeared headed for a comfortable but uninspiring win for Greece when Paraskevas Antzas was adjudged to have fouled Tamas Hajnal in the penalty area in the 76th. Krisztian Kenesei converted the penalty past substitute goalkeeper Stefanos Kotsolis, who was making his international debut. Hungary striker Sandor Torghelle, who plays for Greek club Panathinaikos, was sent off in the 82nd after picking up a second yellow card. Pantelis Kafes sealed the win for the hosts shortly before the final whistle with a low drive from within the 6-yard box after two quick touches from Dimitris Papadopoulos and Nikos Lymberopoulos. Greece, watched by only a few thousand fans, wasted several chances in the first half-hour with defender Paraskevas Antzas and the new strike duo of Vangelis Mantzios and Dimitris Salpingidis unable to convert several close-range efforts. «This is a new start for us to build a new team to fight for qualification for Euro 2008,» Giannakopoulos said. «We have plenty of time to improve and become stronger.» Rehhagel, disappointed with his team’s commitment, said: «You must always find ways to motivate players and fans for such friendlies. We wanted to win this and we had to show some passion.» Rehhagel, whose extension will make him the longest-serving national coach in Greece, took over an unfancied side in 2001 and led them to a stunning European championship victory in Portugal last year. Greece captain Theodoris Zagorakis, who did not play against Hungary because of a minor injury, is determined to remain in Rehhagel’s plans at the age of 34. «This team is part of my life and I think that, as long as I have the strength, I want to help,» Zagorakis said. «But it is up to those who make the selection.» Meanwhile, in official competition also late Wednesday night, Turkey – which deprived Greece of second place in their group and a playoff berth following away wins against group winner Ukraine and Albania when both opponents had nothing left to shoot for – went down to Switzerland in a trouble-marred encounter. Switzerland had won its home leg 2-0 and lost 4-2 in Istanbul Wednesday to advance on away goals. After the final whistle, both teams raced from the field apparently to escape angry fans. A scuffle between players from both sides ensued in the tunnel on the way to the locker room. Responding to the violence in Istanbul, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said yesterday that soccer’s international governing body will consider banning Turkey from the 2010 World Cup. «We will act tough,» Blatter said. «The catalog of sanctions extends from a simple warning to suspension of the federation, which could mean exclusion from the next international event.» Blatter said FIFA’s disciplinary committee will start its investigation immediately and decide on sanctions by December 9, the date for the draw of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. «In the truest sense of the word, fair play was trampled underfoot,» Blatter told a news conference at FIFA headquarters. «This is unworthy of football. Football should promote understanding among peoples. This didn’t happen here… If a team that has won cannot celebrate on the pitch and instead have to run off like thieves, then something is wrong.» (Reuters, AP, Kathimerini)

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