SPORTS

Superb year for Otto and team

Greece’s soccer team endured many highs and lows during its ultimately successful qualifying campaign for a place at the Euro 2008 finals, where it will defend its European title next summer. Last March’s 4-1 thrashing by Turkey at our own Karaiskaki Stadium put the European champions up against the wall as both experts and others pounded the team with criticism. According to their illogical sports logic, Greek athletes do not have the right to lose against their archrivals the Turks, especially on the eve of the National Independence Day. Fortunately, our internationals and coach Otto Rehhagel do not suffer from the omnipresent weaknesses of our race. Having long solved their existential problems – the same that torment individuals at responsible posts here on a daily basis – the Greek soccer team went on to produce a marvelous run of successes that assured it a place at the Euro finals with two rounds of qualifiers remaining. Highlighting this amazing feat, other traditional European soccer powerhouses needed to battle for their berths until the very last day of qualifying action, while England shocked both its fans and the entire soccer world by failing to make it to European soccer’s biggest international-level event. Great feat Greece ended its campaign with the most points overall among all contestants in all seven qualifying groups. There were 10 wins, a draw and a loss for 31 points from 12 games. This blazing run lifted Greece to 11th place on the international rankings set by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. The higher ranking assured Greece an easier draw for the World Cup 2010 qualifiers and, theoretically, the national team can make it to the finals in South Africa – for the second time in the country’s history. Rehhagel’s men also seem capable of making a very solid showing at the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland. Of course, repeating the astonishing feat staged in Portugal four years ago will be extremely difficult. But the fact that Greece will be taking part in the Euro finals for a second successive time is an accomplishment in itself.