France gets informal revenge

World Cup runners-up France were happy to gain revenge for their Euro 2004 defeat when they rounded off an eventful year with a 1-0 win over Greece in a low-key friendly on Wednesday night. Les Bleus needed a first-half goal by striker Thierry Henry to get past Otto Rehhagel’s side, which beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinals in Portugal en route to winning the 2004 European championship. Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel, who masterminded the country’s shock Euro 2004 victory in Portugal, which included a quarterfinal dismissal of France, was far from happy with his charges. «The French have some very good players. A very classy team. But we helped their cause,» said Rehhagel. «When we won the ball, we gave it away at the same time or even quicker. We’re not happy with our game today.» France fans paid tribute to the their 1998 world champions and Euro 2000 winners. Past and present players took the plaudits of the 68,000 crowd who waved white and blue flags on which was written »Merci Les Bleus.» Zinedine Zidane, who scored twice in the 1998 final and retired after this year’s World Cup final, receiving a standing ovation. Henry closed to within two of Michel Platini’s French scoring record. The striker rose in the 26th minute to score with a rare header after Bayern Munich right-back Willy Sagnol’s cross took a triple deflection that beat Greece’s backpedaling defense to land invitingly on Henry’s head. It was the dynamic Arsenal forward’s 39th goal in 91 games for his country. «As I have said many times, Platini did it much quicker than me [in just 72 caps] and just to be compared to that type of player is already amazing,» Henry said. Meanwhile, in official competition, also Wednesday night, Cyprus held mighty Germany to a 1-1 draw in Nicosia, the landmark performance of the evening’s batch of Euro 2008 qualifiers. Responding to the achievement, the Cypriot soccer federation said yesterday it was contemplating giving victory bonuses to its national side for its effort in the Group D European Championship qualifier. Each player in the squad is eligible for a home draw bonus of 1,300 euros, but it could double. The result followed the surprise 5-2 demolition of Ireland in October. Cyprus’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign had an awful start when they were thumped 6-1 by Slovakia. Wednesday’s result spoiled Germany’s previously perfect record in Group D. The Germans now share the group’s top spot with the Czech Republic, both on 10 points. Cyprus is fourth with four points in the seven-team group. The top two sides qualify for the finals. Returning to domestic soccer competition, yesterday’s draw for the Greek Cup’s fifth round produced no major battles. Defending champion Olympiakos was drawn to play away against the second division’s Haidari, the club that ousted the top league’s AEK in the previous round. Panathinaikos hosts Apollon Kalamaria. The remainder of the pairs are: Niki Volos-Ilissiakos; PAOK-Ergotelis; Iraklis-PAS Ioannina; Panionios-Xanthi; OFI-Larissa; Kerkyra-Ionikos. All games will be played between December 19 and 21. In the event of drawn games, repeat matches will be staged on January 10 with the aforementioned visiting clubs as hosts. Qualifiers advance to the quarterfinals. (Reuters, AFP, Kathimerini)

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