As the countdown to UEFA EURO 2004™ gathers pace, uefa.com considers what the coming months might hold for the 16 finalists. Today we look at Greece.
By Dimitra Pappa
A year ago Greece coach Otto Rehhagel was pilloried by the country's press for his seemingly unimaginative team selection. Twelve months on, with Greece safely qualified for UEFA EURO 2004™, the German's fortunes have been transformed.
Successive 1-0 wins against Group 6 rivals Spain, Ukraine, Armenia and Northern Ireland sealed Greece's place in Portugal. There they will face Portugal, Spain again and then Russia in Group A and the media are anxiously trying to work out Rehhagel's finals plan. Staying loyal to his squad, Rehhagel insists: "I will trust the same players, more or less, that made it through the qualifying phase."
However, in the countdown to Greece's first UEFA European Championship finals appearance since 1980, new selection conundrums have arisen for the coach. Most notable is the question of who will anchor the midfield, where captain Theodoros Zagorakis and in-form Panathinaikos FC player Angelos Basinas are being challenged by Ieroklis Stoltidis and Akis Zikos.
Olympiacos CFP's Stoltidis has been the domestic revelation of the season, combining defensive steel with an uncanny ability to score crucial goals in his first campaign with the champions, especially from set-pieces. Meanwhile, Zikos has been a pivotal member of the AS Monaco FC side who have stormed clear in Ligue 1 and progressed to the UEFA Champions League last 16. His spirit and reliability have stood out, qualities admired by Rehhagel.
At the back, Paraskevas Antzas's decision to quit Olympiacos for third division Doxa Dramas citing personal reasons could cost him his place in the squad as Rehhagel prefers players who are getting regular top-flight football. Giorgios Karagounis's infrequent appearances for FC Internazionale could also prove a problem.
Good news for coach
However, Nikos Dabizas's move from Newcastle United FC to Leicester City FC should end the defender's spell on the Premiership sidelines. Similarly, striker Themistoklis Nikolaidis has worked his way into Club Atlético de Madrid coach Gregorio Manzano's lineup.
The remaining question for Rehhagel is the identity of his back-up goalkeeper to No1 Antonios Nikopolidis. Theofanis Katergiannakis has been sitting on the Olympiacos bench since the comeback from injury of Dimitrios Eleftheropoulos, although the latter has yet to find his true form. Konstantinos Chalkias, another man used by Rehhagel, is second choice to Nikopolidis at Panathinaikos.
With friendlies to come against fellow-qualifiers Bulgaria, Switzerland and the Netherlands before Greece face Portugal in the tournament's opening match on 12 June, Rehhagel has time for experiments yet. For that first match the presence of left-back Panagiotis Fyssas may prove valuable. Thirty-one on the day of the game, he should by then know all about the tournament hosts following his transfer-window move to SL Benfica.
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