Fired-up Australia defeats Greece ahead of World Cup

Unable to live up to the expectations of its substantial ethnic Greek following, which comprised about half of the Melbourne Cricket Ground’s 95,103 sold-out crowd yesterday, the national team was defeated 1-0 in an international friendly by a superior Australian team fired up by the prospect of next month’s World Cup finals in Germany. A strike from just outside the area by Josip Skoko in the 15th minute gave the Socceroos a confidence-boosting win against the European champion. Greece coach Otto Rehhagel broke with his regular 4-5-1 system, starting with a 4-4-2 formation that did not contain captain Theodoros Zagorakis. But Rehhagel made four changes at the break, including bringing on 115-cap veteran Zagorakis in midfield, and the Greeks started with a rush in the second half, applying more pressure on and off the ball. Rehhagel said the Australians were more committed than his side, which was surprised by the game’s high intensity for a friendly match. «The Australians were more aggressive, won most of the tackles and scored a sensation goal,» he said. «It took us a while to get into the game and only in the second half did we get better.» Australia coach Guus Hiddink said Australia’s dominance in the first half and the last 10 minutes were positives ahead of the World Cup, but its inability to control for 90 minutes was disappointing. «The first half was good, our organization was good,» he said. «I was not happy with the performance in the second half until the last 10 minutes. I don’t want to be pessimistic [but] we’ve still to work a lot. If you want to be very competitive at the World Cup level, you must control the whole game.» The Australians leave for the Netherlands today for a June 4 friendly with the Dutch ahead of their World Cup opener against Japan on June 12. The Australians also face World Cup champion Brazil and Croatia in a tough Group F. After a stunning win at Euro 2004, the Greeks failed to qualify for the World Cup. Rehhagel is preparing for Greece’s defense of its European crown in qualifiers for Euro 2008 starting in September. «We haven’t started the campaign yet so every campaign is new and I’m quite happy that we’ve got some young players coming through,» he said. «So after the break we’re looking forward to starting up this campaign to get us to Switzerland and Austria in 2008.» (AP, AFP, Kathimerini)