SPORTS

Otto Rehhagel lashes out at reporters before Euro qualifier against Norway

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel accused local reporters yesterday of trying to influence his choice of players for the national squad ahead of a Euro 2008 qualifier against Norway. In his first public outburst since guiding Greece to an upset 2004 European championship victory, Rehhagel said he was the only person responsible for picking players. «I know that you have been trying to squeeze players onto the national team for quite some time,» he said after reporters questioned several selections ahead of the Group C qualifiers against Norway on Saturday and Bosnia next week. Several players, including striker Dimitris Papadopoulos and Michalis Kaspsis, who were both members of the 2004 squad, have had to withdraw due to injuries or club problems. Panayiotis Lagos also had to drop out because of injury only hours after his call-up. Kapsis, who was driving to join the national team at their training camp, was told by his club Olympiakos to return because he did not have permission to play. «The responsibility rests with me,» Rehhagel said.»As for Kapsis, Greece owes this man a great deal.» He then continued his outburst, accusing reporters of distorting facts. Speaking in his native German, Rehhagel said he had never been influenced by his assistant coach Yiannis Topalidis, who was sitting next to him translating into Greek. «You wrote that Yiannis influenced my decisions. That is not true. He does not influence my decisions. In fact, the only person who can influence me is my wife,» he said. «No one else. Now you should go to your readers and say, ‘Dear readers, we are sorry for giving you false information,’ but I am sure you will not do that,» he said, prompting angry reactions from several journalists. Greece, who failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup after their spectacular Euro 2004 win, plays Group C leaders Norway tomorrow in Athens. Greece won their first qualifier, a lackluster 1-0 away win against Moldova. «You should be creating a positive atmosphere ahead of this [Norway] match. Even the president [of the Republic] will be there. Instead you are talking about these things,» he said. Rehhagel has been under pressure for sticking with the same core of players who won the trophy in Portugal and for refusing to bring in younger players. Also yesterday, captain Theodoris Zagorakis, who led his team to the European Championship victory in 2004, said he would quit after the next two Euro qualifiers against Norway and Bosnia. The 34-year-old, who has a record 118 caps for his country, including 66 as captain, has repeatedly hinted he was ready to end his 12-year career with the national team following the game against Group C leaders Norway at the weekend. But a surprise call-up by coach Rehhagel for the Bosnia match four days later extended his international career by one match. «For me, this cycle will now come to an end after these two games,» a visibly moved Zagorakis told reporters. «You cannot hold two melons under one arm and I feel I cannot give everything I want to the national team,» he said, referring to his double duties as national team and PAOK captain. «There are things you want to give but you just cannot,» said Zagorakis, who is hugely popular in Greece. Zagorakis, who started his international career only three months after Greece’s dismal showing at the 1994 World Cup, enjoyed his biggest triumph when he captained his country to the biggest upset in soccer history in Portugal two years ago. Greece, a traditionally weak side that had qualified only once before for the European Championships, stunned hosts Portugal in the final, winning 1-0. «The national team has been such a big part of my life and I want to thank God for all these wonderful things that I have enjoyed,» he said. Zagorakis is expected to start against Norway in front of a sellout 33,000 crowd in the Karaiskaki Stadium in his last home match. (Reuters)