Things may get better

The national soccer team’s highly commendable performance against England at Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium for a 2-2 draw last Saturday seemed like a dream for Greece’s supporters. Fueled by passion and confidence against a soccer powerhouse like England, the Greek team showed that something may have changed since the recent arrival of German coach Otto Rehhagel at the helm of an undisciplined, demoralized side. An equalizer from a free kick struck by England’s star player David Beckham during the game’s dying stages gave his side its berth for next year’s World Cup finals, to be co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, as Group 9’s top-placed side. Greece, which was no longer in contention, was fired up by its new coach and gave a soul-saving performance. All the Greek players have showed their capabilities with their clubs. The time came for us also to show this on the national team, Herta Berlin’s Costas Constantinides told state radio ERA Sport yesterday. We have a year ahead of us to get organized and become a good side that will vie for a place in the final phase of Euro 2004, he added. Ironically, Rehhagel found himself in the position of being able to help his country qualify for the World Cup finals through his efforts as the new coach of Greece’s national side. But Greece’s 2-2 draw was not enough after Germany stumbled against Finland for a scores draw. As Group 9’s runner-up, Germany will now seek its place through playoffs against Ukraine. Greece ended fourth behind Finland, while Albania occupied last place. Greece led twice during Saturday’s clash, but Dutch referee Dick Jol awarded dubious free kicks to England that allowed equalizing goals. The referee cost us a historic victory, remarked Rehhagel following the encounter. He gave David Beckham a festival of free kicks. Both England goals were off free kicks when there had been no foul, he added. The injustice was echoed by English sports writer Rob Hughes in his match summary for the International Herald Tribune. As an Englishman, I must agree. Jol was the worst referee at Euro 2000 and on Saturday, too slow to keep up with play, his performance was a travesty from which England, eventually, profited. Zoe Siotropou forges off on her own with a beautiful series of pavement studies, while Pericles Antoniou’s foray into the National Gardens steers clear of the saccharine shots that would have tempted many photographers.

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