SPORTS

Both sides striving for a top performance

Though the competition won’t be official, both the Greek and Australian national teams have good reason to go into tomorrow’s soccer friendly in Melbourne seeking high-level performances. Now just weeks away from the beginning of their World Cup finals duties in Germany, the Socceroos will be seeking to impress their Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who, reportedly, has yet to decide on what he considers to be his team’s ideal starting lineup. For the visiting Greeks, who missed out on qualifying for this summer’s World Cup finals despite being crowned European champions in 2004, there is still some time before their next official commitment, Euro 2008 qualifying play, which begins in September. Even so, Greece can be expected to push for an impressive performance in Melbourne to satisfy the team’s considerable ethnic Greek following, which is expected to occupy about half of the 95,000-capacity MCG for tomorrow’s match. It has been 28 years since a national Greek team visited Australia. For the diaspora, this visit carries the merit and pride of Greece’s triumph in Portugal two years ago. «This visit to Melbourne is an amazing experience. The functions organized by members of the Greek community have been very touching and we want to reward the people with a good performance,» said striker Giorgos Samaras, the Manchester City player with an Australia-based family. «We’re ready to take on Australia, a very good team taking part in the World Cup finals in Germany,» he added. Latest reports said Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel had no injury concerns going into the game. Hiddink, now Australia’s coach after leading South Korea to the semifinals of the previous World Cup, has, according to comments made by squad members, generated a healthy competitive spirit. Striker Mark Viduka of Middlesbrough, who was entrusted with the team captaincy in one of Hiddink’s first moves, is in awe of the Dutchman’s galvanizing effect on the Socceroos. «I look at football management in two parts. The first is man management and the second is the on-the-field stuff, like tactics,» Viduka said. «When it comes to man management, I’ve never dealt with a person who has the type of ability to be able to get every single player, even those on the bench, to be 100 percent willing to go out and die for the team.» Basel midfielder Scott Chipperfield noted that Hiddink based his selections on performance, not reputation. «He doesn’t pick players on names, he picks players on performances,» Basel told the Australian Associated Press. «You can see that at training. It’s very intense. Everyone is putting in, everyone is committed. Every player is fighting for that starting spot come the game against Japan, so whenever you get your chance it’s important to take it,» he continued, referring to Australia’s opening World Cup match against the Japanese on June 12. Australia complete their Group F matches in Germany against champions Brazil on June 18 and against Croatia on June 22. (Kathimerini/AFP/Reuters)