Coach demands sustained effort

Though Greece has already secured its place at next summer’s Euro 2008 finals, coach Otto Rehhagel said he wanted strong performances from his side in its two remaining encounters, against Malta tomorrow and Hungary next Wednesday. Rehhagel, responding to a question – at a news conference in Athens yesterday – on whether he planned to give peripheral squad members playing time, said he was treating both upcoming games as formal preparation for the finals. «When you underestimate an opponent, you take a big risk,» Rehhagel said. «Germany, for example, qualified and then they underperformed against the Czech Republic, losing 3-0 [at home]. I want to avoid a similar situation and that means we must not underestimate Malta. Every match is important. We won’t have many friendlies ahead of the finals so each match will help us prepare.» Rehhagel urged fans to fill the Athens Olympic Stadium for tomorrow’s final home game of the Euro 2008 campaign. The 69-year-old German coach refused to comment on whether he would agree to extend his contract, which expires next summer. He said his focus, for now, was on the upcoming games, Greece’s preparations for the Euro 2008 finals and the team’s defense of its European title. «I’m a realist. What happens six months from now is another issue. I look at the present. There’s still time for that. We’ll talk about it again in the spring. We now have to prepare to defend our European title,» said Rehhagel, while making clear the satisfaction he has gained from working with the Greek team. «I’ve been in charge for six years but it feels as if it’s been only six minutes.» The Greek soccer federation’s chief Vassilis Gagatsis has made clear his interest in extending Rehhagel’s contract beyond the Euro 2008 finals. Gagatsis wants Rehhagel at the helm for the national team’s qualifying campaign leading to the World Cup finals in 2010. A point from either of Greece’s games against Malta and Hungary would secure top spot in Group C. Norway hosts Turkey Saturday in a vital clash for the group’s other qualifying berth. Meanwhile, central defender Michalis Kapsis, a pivotal part of Greece’s defence at the Euro 2004 finals, has decided to retire following next summer’s European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland. The 34-year-old, who currently plays club-level soccer with Cypriot club APOEL Nicosia in a career that has included spells at Olympiakos and French club Bordeaux, disclosed his intentions during an interview for local TV to be aired tomorrow. Kapsis follows in the footsteps of three more retirees from Greece’s Euro 2004 squad, Vassilis Tsiartas, Demis Nikolaidis and Thodoris Zagorakis. Goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis also says he is seriously considering retirement after Euro 2008.