Promise of sports success led to little in ’05

The year 2005 was a troubled one for Greek sports. Admittedly, the national basketball team won its second European title last summer, but persistent woes that have plagued Greek sport for years, most notably fan violence, continued to blemish the sporting scene. The year began as one full of promise as a result of the country’s successful staging of the Athens Olympics and, moreover, the national soccer team’s incredible triumph at Euro 2004. The more optimistic of followers and officials began believing the Euro 2004 triumph would have major positive impact on domestic soccer that would provide a basis for a more prosperous future, one that would eliminate corruption, hooliganism, and low attendance figures. Generally speaking, the Olympics provided hope for a boost to this country’s spirit, both in sports and society. Unfortunately, the aftermath seems to have led to little if anything at all. Greek club-level soccer appears unchanged down in the dungeons of trouble and poor play. In track and field, the Olympic facilities have not been made accessible to the country’s athletes and public as the Greek government tries to sell at the best possible price. Besides still making appearances at Greek sports arenas, indoors and outdoors, violence has even made it to the swimming pools, as highlighted by trouble in water-polo competition. Women’s volleyball hasn’t been spared either. One exception to the overall disappointment was Greek basketball, which gave a boost to local supporters in 2005 when the national team, a young one, was crowned European champion in Belgrade for the second time. Greece had also triumphed in 1987, at Eurobasket in Athens. Back then, Panagiotis Yiannakis led the side as captain. In this team, 18 years later, he was at the helm on the bench, becoming the first man to win the European basketball title as both player and coach. Greece’s title win finally put to rest years of wasted potential. The glory in Belgrade, however, did not come easily. Greece managed to come back from the seeming dead in its quarterfinal match against Russia. Then, in the semifinal against France, the national team, trailing in what appeared to be an unbridgeable gap in the game’s closing stages, clawed back to snatch an astonishing one-point victory. A successful three-point shot by Dimitris Diamantidis, which put Greece ahead seconds from time, has gone down in sporting history here. Despite the efforts of Germany’s NBA superstar Dirk Nowitski in the tournament final, Greece’s team was not troubled in the final. Greece’s next challenge, in the new year, will be to produce the goods once again at Mundobasket, basketball’s world championships, in Japan this coming August. In domestic competition, Panathinaikos ruled again in 2005. Following the national team’s miraculous Euro 2004 win, Greek soccer was unable to make international impact in 2005. Greece started slowly in its qualifying campaign for the World Cup finals in Germany this coming summer, but began rebounding to look like a serious contender for at least second place in its group, which would have assured a playoff berth for a place in the finals. A home defeat along the campaign’s home stretch, 1-0 against Ukraine, the group’s eventual winner, seriously undermined Greece’s qualifying hopes. Just days before, the national team had emerged with a scoreless draw in fired-up Istanbul against Turks to bolster its World Cup hopes. But the loss to Ukraine sent the Greek team to Denmark seeking a win, no matter what, in the final qualifier. A 1-0 defeat in Copenhagen, though, left Greece in fourth place. Despite the campaign’s failure, coach Otto Rehhagel remains firmly in his post. The German, who has led the national team since 2001, extended his contract for a further two years. After failing to take Greece to his native Germany for the World Cup finals, Rehhagel’s next objective is to take the team to the next Euro event in 2008. Qualifiers begin later this year. It was also a disappointing 2005 for Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, Greece’s representatives in European club-level soccer’s most prestigious event, the Champions League. Both clubs ended last in their respective four-team groups in early European exits.

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