Brazil on tap to play friendly in Athens

Reigning world soccer champions Brazil are close to reaching a final deal for a friendly match against Greece in Athens on November 15, local sports media said yesterday. According to reports, the star-studded Brazilian team, a firm favorite for this summer’s World Cup finals in Germany, is expected to travel to play the friendly for a million-euro deal. The Greek soccer federation expects revenues from match tickets and sponsorship deals to at least cover the fee. Reports said that the contract expected to be signed by Greece and Brazil’s soccer federations for the November friendly in Athens will include a clause requiring Brazil to attend with all its star players. Otherwise, the reports said, the agreement could be nullified. Greece and Brazil have met twice before. In the first encounter between the two teams, at Brazil’s Maracana stadium back in 1974, Greece held on for a scoreless draw. More recently, last summer at the Confederations Cup in Germany, Greece was defeated 3-0. The 1-million-euro fee demanded by the five-time World Cup champions is slightly over the 900,000-euro fee demanded by the Greek national team for its upcoming visit to Melbourne, for a friendly game against Australia on May 25. Playing in Australia for the first time since 1978 – and the Euro 2004 triumph – the national team’s visit to Melbourne should amount to a major commercial prospect considering the city’s considerable expatriate Greek community. Back to the present, Greece plays its first game today at an eight-team international friendly tournament in Cyprus. Greece takes in Belarus this evening and will end its Cypriot engagement with a second match tomorrow against either Finland or Kazakhstan. The Cyprus tournament’s four other teams are Slovenia, Romania, Armenia, and the host nation. Greece coach Otto Rehhagel summoned Panathinaikos defender Yiannis Goumas yesterday as a last-minute selection in response to central defender Traianos Dellas’s injury over the weekend in domestic club-level competition. Dellas is out with a muscle strain. Talented young striker Giorgos Samaras, who recently transferred to English Premiership club Manchester City from Dutch team Heerenveen in an 8.8-million-euro deal, is playing his first game with the national team in Cyprus. To date, the highly rated 20-year-old has been a key member of Greece’s under-21 squad. Responding to criticism from Panathinaikos coach Alberto Malesani, who condemned Rehhagel for calling up too many players from the Athens club, the national team’s coach said yesterday that «we can’t summon players for the national team in compliance with the wishes of every team, but as we see fit. Mr Malesani is responsible for Panathinaikos and I’m responsible for the national team. But, we’ll look to not exhaust the players too much.»  Malesani’s concerns came days ahead of his team’s crucial league clash against AEK. The pair is locked in battle for second place and a Champions League berth next season. Second-place AEK, three points ahead of Panathinaikos, is on 48 points. Breakaway leader Olympiakos has 57 points. Meanwhile, a public prosecutor said yesterday that television footage of Sunday’s trouble-marred game in Thessaloniki between PAOK and Olympiakos would be examined to seek further arrests of rioting fans. Police have already arrested six home-team fans, who were charged with public order offenses. Scores of PAOK fans forced their way into Toumba Stadium late in the second half of Sunday’s game, which Olympiakos won 2-1, before ripping up seats, throwing rocks and coins onto the field and setting fires in stands. PAOK, sixth in the standings, is expected to receive stern punishment. In other soccer-related trouble last weekend, four people were hospitalized on Saturday after about 20 youths on motorcycles attacked an Athens restaurant where Panathinaikos supporters had gathered. The youths caused extensive damage, hurling rocks and gasoline bombs at the restaurant. (Kathimerini, AP)

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