SPORTS

Rehhagel wants better

Karaiskaki Stadium – Greece will go into Wednesday’s crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier against Switzerland in Athens with a perfect record from their first three games in Group 2, but coach Otto Rehhagel believes his players can, and will need to, improve. The German watched his side easily dispose of Moldova 3-0 at Olympiakos’s Karaiskaki Stadium on Saturday night, to retain first place in the group and take their goal tally to eight for and none against. But Rehhagel wants more from his team. «Our performance dropped after the score became 3-0 and we have to make sure that there is no repeat of this in our next games,» he said. Greece has nine points, followed by Israel with seven and Switzerland on four. Latvia, Luxembourg and Moldova trail. Only the group winners qualify automatically for the finals in South Africa. «We said that if we wanted to qualify, we would have to win the first three games. Now, the games against our true opponents, Israel and Switzerland, are coming up and we have to perform better than we did today,» Rehhagel warned. The 70-year-old is aware that the Swiss will prove much tougher opponents than the Moldovans, who provided feeble resistance against a Greece side that never needed to move out of second gear. «The match was decided by our mistakes,» said Moldova coach Igor Dobrovolski, and there were plenty of them. The visitors were punished in the 33rd minute when, at a free kick, Costas Katsouranis slid the ball to an unmarked Angelos Charisteas. Less than 10 minutes later, Katsouranis rifled a sweet long-range shot into the top corner. Greece only needed to turn on the style briefly in the second half to complete its night’s work. Charisteas doubled his tally in the 52nd minute when a slip by Moldova captain Radu Rebeja allowed the Nurnberg striker a clear run on the goal. Despite his concern about the lackluster performance in the last half hour of the game, Rehhagel appeared pleased with his defense, which has yet to concede a goal in the group. «We are stable at the back and I hope our defense will be as compact and organized on Wednesday,» he said, looking forward to the Switzerland game. Surprizingly, Rehhagel picked out one of his players, Olympiakos central defender Avraam Papadopoulos – a recent addition to the squad – for particular praise. «He was the best player today,» said the German, even though Charisteas was voted the Man of the Match. «Papadopoulos plays in a way that I like. He is disciplined and he is a fighter and he goes forward when he has to.» Rehhagel is expecting Switzerland to prove a much tougher opposition than Moldova. «Switzerland is not coming here to lose,» he said when questioned about what threat the Swiss, who beat Latvia 2-1 on Saturday, might pose. In the group’s other game, Israel came away with a 3-1 win from Luxembourg. Rehhagel dismissed concerns about the low attendance at Saturday’s game, which saw the 33,000-seater Karaiskaki Stadium less than half-full. «When you play, you play to win regardless of whether the stadium is full or not. The opposition was not the most attractive and, since we won two games away from home, most people probably assumed that we would win today as well.» The reaction of the ruddy-faced Dobrovolski suggested that the fans who stayed away in anticipation of an easy win had been right to do so. «We played with fear, but the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,» said the Moldova coach, borrowing a line from US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Rehhagel will be hoping that his players can step up their performance and strike some fear into the Swiss on Wednesday, as Greece bids to keep its perfect record.