Friendly match excites all

Greece’s upcoming friendly international against Australia in Melbourne will serve as a valuable test ahead of the national soccer team’s Euro 2008 qualifying competition due to begin early in September, coach Otto Rehhagel told a news conference yesterday, just ahead of his squad’s departure. «We want to make the most of this game, to be played in front of many fans, so that we can settle on a starting lineup for our first Euro 2008 qualifier against Moldova,» Rehhagel told reporters. Public interest in the game, to be played at the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on May 25, has been immense. Latest reports said tickets, which vanished quickly, were being offered for lofty prices on the black market. It will be Greece’s first visit to Australia since its astonishing triumph at Euro 2004, a prospect that has excited the city’s considerable ethnic-Greek community. Moreover, the encounter will be Australia’s last test at home ahead of next month’s World Cup finals. Australia has qualified for the World Cup finals just once before, in 1974. The team’s latest qualification has helped generate wider domestic interest in soccer, a game overshadowed by other winter-sport disciplines such as Australian Rules and Rugby Union. «We need to make the most of our time to be spent there for tactical talk, game systems, technique, and all else that is necessary in soccer,» Rehhagel remarked. «We’re obliged to play a good game and be a formidable opponent for the Australians,» he added. The Australian soccer federation reportedly paid a 1-million-euro fee to book the reigning European champions for the upcoming friendly match in Melbourne. Responding to the huge demand for match tickets, the federation’s chief, John O’Neill, said the reaction was expected. Several Greek players will miss the trip to Australia. Rehhagel has omitted defender Michalis Kapsis, one of Greece’s heroes in Portugal in 2004, because of fitness concerns, as is also the case with Paraskevas Antzas and Vangelis Mantzios. Away from the competition, Rehhagel and his players will attend a cultural festival organized by Melbourne’s Greek community tomorrow. In another pre-match commitment, the Greek squad will receive an honorary award from the University of Melbourne’s Greek Studies faculty on Monday. Besides Moldova, Greece’s other group opponents for Euro 2008 qualifying competition are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Malta, Norway and Turkey. At next month’s World Cup finals, Australia will meet Brazil, Croatia and Japan in the first phase of group play.