Rehhagel hails historic night

Greece’s 1-0 win against Turkey in Istanbul on Wednesday night – which sent the European soccer champions straight to next summer’s Euro 2008 finals with two rounds of qualifying play remaining – was the national team’s first victory in the neighboring country in 55 years. Besides Austria and Switzerland, which both qualified automatically as co-hosts of the Euro 2008 finals, Greece, which now boasts an 8-1-1 record at the top of Group C, is one of four teams now already through. The others are Romania from Group G and the Czech Republic and Germany, both from Group B. Going into Wednesday’s encounter with most of the work done for a finals berth and two, theoretically, less challenging games – against Malta at home and Hungary away – scheduled for the qualifying campaign’s remainder, Greece was not desperate for victory, let alone a draw. But coach Otto Rehhagel’s men settled quickly despite the frenzied atmosphere generated by the home crowd at Istanbul’s sold-out 25,000-capacity Ali Sami Yen Stadium. The Greek team’s composure from early on came as solid proof of Rehhagel’s demand for victory and direct qualification with two games to go. Considering Greece’s number of squandered scoring opportunities throughout the game, the win could have been far greater. «We wanted revenge for the first game and a place in the finals from now. We played with hearts and minds, went for the game and succeeded in reaching our objective,» said Rehhagel, referring to Greece’s 4-1 home defeat against Turkey last March. «I liked the way our defense line functioned, but we need to improve with our finishing in attack,» he added. The defeat sunk Turkey to third place, two points behind Norway, a 2-0 winner at Bosnia-Herzegovina later on Wednesday night. In the next round of play, scheduled for November 17, Turkey travels to Norway knowing that defeat would end its qualification hopes. On that night, Greece hosts Malta in what promises to be more a celebration than a competitive soccer match. Victory, however, would assure the Greek team Group C’s top spot. Turkey’s coach Fatih Terim acknowledged Greece’s superiority in Wednesday’s game. «Congratulations to Greece for the victory and qualification. They were better and deservedly won the match,» said Terim. «We made a mistake when Greece scored by not playing the offside trap well. But Greece had other opportunities to score more goals.» Greece’s winning goal, which came in the 79th minute, was the first for Yiannis Amanatidis with the national team. A rising force in the Greek team, Amanatidis, who is captain of Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany’s Bundesliga, noted that «the entire team, not just myself, played a very good game.»