SPORTS

Shooting for future goals on sidelines of World Cup

The World Cup in Japan and South Korea has begun in earnest. To the disappointment of local fans, the national team has again been sidelined from soccer’s premier international event. To date, Greece has qualified just once, in 1994, when the national side returned early and humiliated from the USA. In the opening round, Greece lost heavily to Argentina, Bulgaria, and Nigeria, conceding 10 goals and scoring not a single one. Appointed last summer as the national team’s new coach after Greece’s latest quest for a World Cup berth had failed, German coach Otto Rehhagel, who has enjoyed considerable success at home, is looking to transform Greece into a formidable force. His first objective is to lead the team to the European Championships in 2004. «Greek soccer players are very good but too individualistic, as is common in all Mediterranean countries. They’re strong on a personal level but must learn that team strategies exist as a means for success,» Rehhagel told Kathimerini’s View magazine. «Team play is the most vital element. This is the only way to reach our goals,» he added. Prior to assuming his position as Greece’s national coach, Rehhagel, a former player, was credited with considerable success at home. He has coached several clubs, including SV Werder Bremen, which he took over as a second-division side, promoted to the country’s premier league, the Bundesliga, and led to two titles and a European Cup Winners Cup. He joined Greece from Kaiserslautern. Greece has shown signs of improvement since Rehhagel’s takeover, as was shown by an impressive performance against an English side looking for at least a draw at Old Trafford to qualify for the current World Cup. Greece led until the game’s dying stages, before David Beckham converted an injury-time free kick for England’s place in the finals. More recently, Greece has proven consistent in friendly games, defeating one of the World Cup qualifiers, Belgium. Rehhagel said he had decided to continue as a coach on the strength of his communications skills. «I communicate very well with people. Since the time when I captained teams as a player, I have felt that I could eventually turn to coaching,» Rehhagel said. For its Euro 2004 berth, Greece has been drawn against Armenia, Northern Ireland, Spain, and Ukraine in Group 6. «The truth is that Spain is the group favorite. If we hope for qualification, we need to base our game on discipline and sound strategy,» said Rehhagel. «We have great players but need to create a solid unit to face the Spaniards. There’s always hope for qualification. World Cup outsiders made it to this year’s finals. You’ve got to have confidence. With the help of my assistant, Yiannis Topalidis, I believe we can mold a good team and respond to the challenges.»