Pressure on after heavy loss

Greece goes into tonight’s Euro 2008 qualifier against Malta in Valletta facing greater pressure than what the national team would have preferred following last Saturday’s 4-1 home debacle against Turkey. The heavy loss, which gave Turkey Group C’s clear lead and a three-point advantage over second-placed Greece, prompted criticism against the Greek squad, as well as renewed calls for new blood. The protests began surfacing during Greece’s unconvincing and ultimately failed attempt to reach last summer’s World Cup finals. But coach Otto Rehhagel had managed to silence his critics over the past few months as a result of Greece’s perfect start three rounds into its Euro 2008 campaign. But the critics lashed out again following Saturday’s loss. The German coach remained firm about his approach to the job in remarks at Athens Airport on Monday as the team prepared to depart for Valletta. «This is the squad we have, and this is how the team will remain,» Rehhagel said. «We’re well placed in the group and stand a good chance to qualify, but don’t believe that we’ll win all 12 of the group’s games,» he added. Bosnia, a surprise away winner over Norway last weekend, lies third in Group C, two points behind Greece with a game in hand. Norway, expected to battle for the group’s two qualification berths with Greece and Turkey, is currently placed fourth, three points behind Greece. Rehhagel called on disappointed fans to rebound from last weekend’s defeat and keep offering Greece their support. «We wanted to offer them the joy of victory against Turkey, but, unfortunately, didn’t manage. We’re saddened because the stadium was full,» Rehhagel said. Rehhagel, who took over a national side that lacked discipline and unity back in 2001, gradually instilled coherence and team spirit into a squad that eventually went on to astonish the sporting world with its shock Euro 2004 triumph in Portugal. His approach, which recognizes the class gap separating this country’s relatively modest stock of available players from international soccer’s elite, has clearly aimed at confronting brilliance with team unity, which helps justify the German coach’s hesitance for change. For tonight’s game, Rehhagel will be without Yiourkas Seitaridis, his regular choice for the right back position, as well as midfielder Yiannis Amanatidis, who are both out injured.

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