SPORTS

Rehhagel expects improved squad

The Greek national soccer team’s newly appointed coach, Otto Rehhagel, told a press conference yesterday that he will be expecting an improved performance from his players in Saturday’s final World Cup qualifier against England at Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium following the side’s 5-1 drubbing against Finland earlier this month. It was the German coach’s first game at the helm of Greece, which is no longer in contention for a place at next year’s World Cup finals to be co-hosted by Japan and South Korea. Rehhagel will have the AEK club’s star striker Demis Nikolaidis at his disposal after persuading the player to return to the national side two years after he decided to walk out. In a strange move that had mixed the national team’s fate with domestic competition, Nikolaidis had attributed his walkout to what he viewed as favoritism by referees for Olympiakos in the national league. Nikolaidis attended the press conference but refrained from making any comments about his comeback. Besides displaying diplomatic skills in the little time that has elapsed since his appointment, Rehhagel has also shown commitment toward building a disciplined, closely knit side. The international fame of Inter Milan left-back Grigoris Georgatos did not stop the German coach from effectively ousting the player after he refused to play a position allotted by Rehhagel in Greece’s game against Finland. In my life as a soccer player I’ve learned that you’ve got to show character both as a player and person, before, during and after each match, Rehhagel told the press conference. Those who are unable to meet the personal criterion, do not have a place in the side. I expected Georgatos to say that he did not play well in the specific match and promise to improve in the future. But he didn’t do it and walked out instead, he added. Rehhagel also underlined that he expects action, not words, from his players. If some players say that they love the national side, they must show this with work, not words. Answers are provided on the pitch, he said. Center-back Nikos Dabizas, who plays for Newcastle United in England’s Premier League, said England, which will almost certainly qualify for the finals, would not be underestimating Greece as an opponent. They’re not going to take us lightly. They have problems with injuries and absences but I don’t think that’s going to influence them because the team has depth, Dabizas said. The music will be performed by the Athens State Orchestra under the baton of the eminent Robert Luther.