SPORTS

Stoltidis rejects Greece call-up

Olympiakos midfielder Ieroklis Stoltidis, one of the Piraeus club’s key performers over the past couple of seasons, has turned down an invitation to join the Greek squad for friendly games against the Czech Republic, today, and Finland, tomorrow, at an unofficial tournament in Cyprus. The rugged 33-year-old player, who was last selected for the national team approximately eight years ago, before Otto Rehhagel took over in 2001, yesterday told the national team coach that his advancing age did not permit him to combine his efforts for both Greece and Olympiakos. Local sports media, especially newspapers affiliated with the Piraeus team, as well as the club’s hard-core fans, have often criticized Rehhagel’s overlooking Stoltidis during the past couple of seasons. The criticism peaked during Greece’s inconsistent and ultimately unsuccessful bid to reach the 2006 World Cup following its shock win at Euro 2004. Stoltidis, clad in his club’s red-and-white colors, informed Rehhagel of his decision at Athens airport, where the squad gathered to travel for the Cyprus tournament. The player’s decision essentially eliminates any chance he had of being called up for this summer’s Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland, where Greece will defend its title following an impressive 10-1-1 campaign in group qualifying action. Stoltidis’s Olympiakos teammate Antonis Nikopolidis, Rehhagel’s goalkeeper of choice for the Greek team, intervened during the airport meeting with Rehhagel, which lasted about 20 minutes, in an attempt to persuade the player to join the Greek squad for the friendlies in Cyprus. Later on in the day, Stoltidis issued a statement on Olympiakos’s official website in which he thanked both the federation and Rehhagel for the call-up to the national team, while offering the squad wishes for Euro 2008. «As I explained to Mr Rehhagel, I believe that I would not have been honest, both to the people at the national team and fans wishing to see me in the national team jersey, had I accepted the offer,» Stoltidis noted. «National team duty would have been added to the number of obligations I already have with my club Olympiakos in the Greek league, cup and Champions League. I believe that I am no longer at an age where I could perform successfully at the level I desire.» Meanwhile, Olympiakos has filed an appeal with Greek soccer’s disciplinary committee against Thessaloniki club Apollon Kalamaria for its use of Austrian international Roman Wallner, a recent signing, in last Sunday’s game between the two clubs, which Apollon won. Wallner’s selection, Olympiakos claims, was improper because he had already been a member of two clubs this season prior to his transfer to the Thessaloniki team. Olympiakos would be awarded the game’s three points and top spot in the Super League should the committee decide in favor of the Piraeus club.