Karagounis gears up for Euro

Giorgos Karagounis is back in high gear. The midfielder, who was influential in Greece’s stunning victory at the last European Championship, led Panathinaikos to the qualifying rounds of the Champions League with four goals in two matches during the Greek league playoffs – his best performances of the season. Greece coach Otto Rehhagel hasn’t yet selected his squad for next month’s Euro games in Austria and Switzerland, but the 31-year-old Karagounis is a safe bet to face Sweden, Russia and Spain in Group D. The hardworking playmaker started in every qualifier, helping Greece to the best record with an impressive 10 wins from 12 games. «We had 31 points after playing 12 [qualifiers]. That has to say something,» Karagounis said. «We have ambition… We have a good team, and we believe in ourselves.» Whether the run of good results will continue at Euro 2008 is not something Karagounis is interested in speculating about. «I won’t say anything about how far we’ll try and make it – about trying to make the last eight, or anything like that,» Karagounis said. «Every game must be looked at separately.» Karagounis scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Portugal in a friendly in March, but his career in club soccer outside of Greece fell short of his own expectations. He spent two seasons at Inter Milan, followed by two at Benfica before returning last year to Panathinaikos – the club he first joined as a teenager. Karagounis is valued for his fast game and ability to unsettle opponents, though critics say he has a habit of falling over near the penalty area. At Euro 2008, he will be expected to link up with Bayer Leverkusen striker Fanis Gekas and Panathinaikos teammate Dimitris Salpiggidis, as well as taking his own chances. «It’s a great feeling to score for the national team,» Karagounis said. «What’s important is winning. But goals are what soccer’s all about and scoring makes me twice as happy.» In recent comments, Rehhagel said Greece would push for all. «I want Greece to be up there competing for the title, just as we did four years ago in Portugal,» Rehhagel said in a recent interview with the Russian sports newspaper Sport-Express. «We will work hard to achieve our goals. We have to look at every match separately, starting with Sweden.» (AP/AFP)