Nikopolidis prepares for final bow
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Greece goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis is happy to have made Greece fans "love their national team again" as he prepares to collect his final cap against Spain.
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Antonis Nikopolidis is looking forward to savouring a "special moment" when he walks on to the pitch at Stadion Salzburg Wals-Siezenheim on Wednesday for what will be his final international appearance for Greece against Spain.
The 37-year-old Olympiacos CFP stalwart, who confirmed he was retiring from the international scene in the wake of the 1-0 defeat by Russia, is set to win his 90th and final cap against Luis Aragonés's Group D winners. Nikopolidis looked embarrassed by the attention as the cameras gathered around him following training on Tuesday but he admitted the match with Spain would be a special occasion. "Well, I don't want to over-dramatise it, as I am retiring from the national team, not from football altogether," said Nikopolidis, sporting his usual shy grin. "That will come as a surprise to many, but I'm planning to stick around for club football. It will be a special moment [against Spain], because I have been a part of this team, of this family for the last nine years."
Nikopolidis was part of the Greece side that won the UEFA EURO 2004™ tournament in Portugal four years ago, an achievement he never envisaged happening. "When your career starts, you have dreams and ambitions," he said. "We have shared some precious moments as a team and started setting specific goals, achieving them one by one. First, the aim was to qualify for a big tournament, and once there we wanted to record our first victory. To win the trophy was something majestic, unbelievable, a feat that will be hard to repeat."
Unity the key
Greece's success in Portugal was largely down to unity and discipline under the guidance of Otto Rehhagel, their 69-year-old German coach. Nikopolidis is hopeful the same kind of spirit can be maintained in the future. "We were very united, both the players who have since retired and those that joined us later," Nikopolidis said. "That is our legacy and hopefully the younger players will follow in our footsteps."
Prior to victory in Portugal, the Greece team had always come a distant second to the club scene in the country. Nikopolidis believes the greatest achievement of Rehhagel's heroes was to make the public love their national side again. "Before 2004 Greece fans sometimes got separated by their club affiliations," he said. "But our success created a nucleus of national team fans. It is a beautiful journey that started in Portugal and will hopefully continue in the years to come."