Greece must beat Armenia

Greece’s soccer team must defeat Armenia tonight at Leoforos Alexandras Stadium if it is to maintain its slim hopes of advancing to the finals of the Euro 2004 championships. Greece is bottom of Group 6 after two 2-0 defeats at the hands of Spain and Ukraine. Spain leads the group with six points, Ukraine has four, Armenia one, and Northern Ireland and Greece zero. Only the top team will qualify directly to the finals; the runner-up will play two playoff games, at home and away, against the runner-up from one of the other nine groups. Otto Rehhagel, Greece’s veteran German coach, tried to appear optimistic. «I think we have overcome any disappointment from the defeat by Ukraine (last Saturday),» he said. «We must fight for qualification. We need the fans’ support.» Until last night, however, only 2,000 tickets had been sold. Rehhagel knows well that any adverse result would lead to demands for his replacement, while a victory would provide some breathing space: The next match, against Northern Ireland, in Belfast, is on April 2, 2003. The Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) has, so far, backed Rehhagel. On Monday, EPO President Vassilis Gagatsis attacked the squad that lost to Ukraine as «a fourth-class neighborhood team.» «The players are solely responsible,» he had said. Asked about Gagatsis’s outburst yesterday, Rehhagel tried to avoid the issue. «Everyone has the right to express themselves in a democracy. Besides, I don’t speak Greek, I don’t read the newspapers and I do not concern myself with such matters… I hold the steering wheel and I must radiate calm. Can you imagine a nervous coach on the eve of a crucial game?» said Rehhagel. Right back Christos Patsatzoglou has recovered from illness and is fit to play after missing Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by Ukraine. He should return in place of Yourkas Seitaridis. Midfielder Giorgos Karagounis has been suspended and is expected to be replaced by Angelos Basinas.