Theofanis Gekas believes Greece can successfully defend their European title after proving they "can beat the best teams" in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying.
Gekas hit a hat-trick on Saturday as Greece thrashed Group C minnows Malta 5-0, and with his side already through to the finals courtesy of a 1-0 win in Turkey in October, he says the holders have no reason to think they cannot succeed in Austria/Switzerland. "Why not?" he said. "We have shown we have a great group of players and that we can beat the best teams. If we play as we know we can, then we could do it again."
Having progressed from Group C with victory in Istanbul, Saturday's match gave Greece the opportunity to celebrate qualification in front of their fans in Athens. Gekas said: "It was a great game for us and the hat-trick capped things for me personally. It was party time and we really enjoyed the victory. It was important to get the three points, but to do it in style and score five goals was fantastic for the team."
Gekas's standing has increased sharply in recent seasons. The 27-year-old former Larissa FC, Kallithea GS and Panathinaikos FC forward ended the 2006/07 campaign as the Bundesliga's 20-goal top scorer with VfL Bochum 1848, before moving to Bayer 04 Leverkusen. "During the last few years, I have been trying to establish myself as a starter," he said of his Greece career. "I hope my performances have shown I am capable of playing in the first XI." He has 20 caps to date.
The injured Angelos Charisteas, who registered Greece's winner in the UEFA EURO 2004™ final against Portugal, remains first choice as central striker although Gekas's form may yet persuade Otto Rehhagel to reconsider. The coach can take at least confidence from his side's ability to fill the voids left by the likes of former captain Theodoros Zagorakis, forward Demis Nikolaidis and midfielder Vassilis Tsiartas.
"What has been important after EURO 2004™ has been replacing those players who have left the squad – I think this qualifying campaign has shown we have done that," he said. "We have a great squad of players now and we feel we can compete with the top teams.
We have to wait to see what will happen next summer to see how good we are."
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