Rehhagel’s fan wish backfires

In the lead-up to Greece’s international soccer friendly against World Cup qualifier Sweden in Thessaloniki on Wednesday night, the national team’s German coach Otto Rehhagel had made public requests for more fans after a mere 1,000 had turned up to the capital’s Olympic Stadium last November to witness his side lose 1-0 to lowly Cyprus. On Wednesday, Rehhagel got the numbers but not the quality. Some 12,000 fans flowed into Thessaloniki’s Harilaou Stadium for Greece’s encouraging 2-2 draw against Sweden, but many of them brought along the nonsensical behavior that, all too often, mars the sporting spirit in Greek stands. During the encounter, which Rehhagel had billed as the opening of his team’s preparations for Euro 2004, the European nations competition, Greek fans jeered and abused certain members of their own national team over domestic club rivalries. Understandably, the players weren’t impressed. «We need fans, not club fans. Hearing team slogans aimed against some of our players was sad. It mustn’t be repeated,» Giorgos Karagounis, who equalized for Greece six minutes from time, told a local radio station, Super Sport FM, yesterday. Up against a formidable side whose squad members are keen to prove their worth ahead of the World Cup finals this summer in Japan and South Korea, Greece, which has not qualified, made a shaky start but did seem to find its feet in the second half of the match. «We were a better team in the second half and could have even won the game, but conceded an unexpected second goal,» said Karagounis, whose team came back from behind twice. In his post-match remarks, Rehhagel appeared content with his side’s performance. Appointed last summer, after Greece was no longer in contention for a World Cup berth, Rehhagel is still testing players. Yesterday he told reporters that the team could start taking shape by September. NBC, the US channel televising the Games, has sold a total of $330 million worth of time to advertisers for the Winter Games. For the Athens Olympics, to which it also holds the rights in the US, having paid $793 million for them, it estimates advertising revenue will reach $800 to $900 million.

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