Year kicks off with friendly

In its first game this year, Greece meets South Korea in a friendly soccer international to be played in London today as part of the national team’s preparations for next month’s return to official competition. Greece, hoping to defend its European title at Euro 2008, to be co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, hosts Turkey on March 24. The two teams share top spot in Group C with three wins each from as many games. The seven-team group’s top two sides advance to the Euro 2008 finals. Coach Otto Rehhagel will be missing four regular squad choices for today’s friendly game against South Korea, to be played at Craven Cottage, the home ground of London club Fulham. Panathinaikos strikers Dimitris Papadopoulos and Dimitris Salpiggidis, AEK defender Traianos Dellas – a key contributor to the Euro 2004 triumph – and AEK midfielder Pantelis Kafes, are all out with injuries. Greece’s 19-man squad flew out yesterday for today’s London friendly. Rehhagel, reports said, is set to play 22-year-old defender Vassilis Torosidis, who recently transferred to Greek champions Olympiakos from ambitious provincial team Xanthi. Greece’s qualifiers commenced last September before taking an extended break, beginning the following month. Following the disappointment of failing to reach last summer’s World Cup finals, Greece, led by German coach Rehhagel, is striving for a return to the international arena. The national team has made a promising start to this latest campaign. Greece opened with a 1-0 away win against stubborn host Moldova, then defeated Norway at home, also 1-0, before trouncing Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-0 away, despite mediocre play. Nine rounds of qualifying play remain with November 21 scheduled as the final day, when Greece will be hosted by Hungary. Meanwhile, in domestic soccer developments, struggling Thessaloniki club Iraklis yesterday sacked its Slovakian coach Jozef Bubenko. The club slipped into the Greek Super League’s relegation zone after losing 3-2 at home against Atromitos on Saturday. Bubenko, who replaced Savvas Kofidis on the Iraklis bench last November, lasted a mere 10 rounds for a record of six wins, one draw, and three defeats. His successor was not immediately announced. Iraklis is the fourth Super League club to have changed coaches twice this season after Xanthi, PAOK and Ionikos. A further four clubs – Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, Aris and Atromitos – have changed coaches once. The 16-team Super League is now just over the midway mark. (Kathimerini, Reuters)

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