Greece avoids soccer powers

Greece’s national soccer team will begin its defense of the European crown this autumn by meeting, in a group setting, Bosnia, Hungary, Malta, Moldova, Norway and Turkey. It must finish among the top two in order to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals, to be hosted jointly by Austria and Switzerland. The draw took place yesterday in Montreux, Switzerland. On February 16, representatives of the seven teams in Group C will meet at the offices of the Turkish soccer federation in Istanbul to fix the group’s program. If they fail to reach an agreement, the European federation, UEFA, will set the schedule. «The draw is not easy, but there are no teams that have qualified for the next World Cup and so I think our chances are good. We fear none of the teams,» said Greece’s German coach, Otto Rehhagel. Greek players who were asked about the draw said the group was not a particularly daunting one. «It will be between Turkey, Norway and us,» said goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis, while midfielder Giorgos Karagounis called this a «strange» group. «We may have avoided the big names, such as Germany and Italy, but this is a strange group of more or less equally competitive teams. I think that both Bosnia and Moldova are good teams. As for Turkey, it has an excellent team and we will have a daunting task. I think Greece and Turkey are the favorites to qualify. As for Norway, it has a strong team, too. But, I believe that it is up to us (to qualify),» Karagounis told SuperSport radio station. Greece, the surprise winner of Euro 2004, where even after making it to the finals it was considered a 100-1 underdog, is starting its new campaign as an outsider as well, following failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup. Betting agency Ladbrokes gives Greece chances of 40-1, behind England (5-1), the Netherlands (6-1), Italy (7-1), Germany (7-1), Sweden (16-1), the Czech Republic (16-1), Portugal (16-1), Russia (25-1), Switzerland (25-1), Ukraine (25-1) and Denmark (33-1). Turkey, a third-place World Cup finisher in 2002 which failed to qualify both for Euro 2004 and this year’s World Cup, is rated a 50-1 outsider.

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