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May 26, 2008

Greece: Solid in defence

Greece travel to the European Championship finals as holders but, just as in 2004, they do so without expectations of winning the tournament.

Otto Rehhagel remains at the helm from that triumph in Portugal, one of the greatest shocks in international football, though few will be surprised by the crude and defensive tactics deployed by the German this time.

In between the Euros, Greece failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006, finishing behind Ukraine, Turkey and Denmark in their group. It further underlined how much their success over the hosts went against expectations.

Greece's performance in qualifying for the finals this time around has seen a return to form. They stormed to the top of Group C and were one of the first nations to book a place in Austria & Switzerland. However, with Greece the only nation in the group to have qualified for any finals since 2002 they were always favourites.

Greece booked their place with two games to spare and they managed to confirm their place by winning against Turkey in Istanbul courtesy of a goal from Ioannis Amanatidis. It was sweet revenge after they had lost 4-1 at home to their rivals earlier in the qualifying tournament.

The 2008 finals will be only the third time Greece have appeared at the European Championships, the other time coming in 1980 in Italy when they finished bottom of their group.

Although expectations may be raised on home soil due to the fact they are the holders, few will expect a repeat performance. Though they will hope to advance from a group which also includes Spain, Russia and Sweden, progressing beyond the quarter-finals would be a surprise.

Rehhagel became Greece's longest serving coach during qualifying, and his achievements have led to a new contract which runs through until the World Cup in South Africa.

The German is known as the 'child of the Bundesliga' - or Kind der Bundesliga - in his homeland partly due to the fact he is the only man who has been involved in over 1,000 Bundesliga games as player and manager.

His early years as a coach with Kickers Offenbach, Borussia Dortmund, Arminia Bielefeld and Fortuna Düsseldorf were unremarkable until he transformed the fortunes of Werder Bremen.

After taking over in 1981 he turned them into one of the most successful sides in the north of the country. Though Bremen initially suffered numerous near-misses in both league and Cup he lead the team to the Bundesliga title in 1988 and again in 1993. Bremen also won the German Cup twice and the European Cup Winners' Cup.

Rehhagel spent 14 years at the club before moving to Bayern Munich. But he struggled to fit in at Bayern - famously clashing with Jurgen Klinsmann - and was sacked weeks before their victorious UEFA Cup final appearance and replaced by Franz Beckenbauer.

After less than one season he moved to 1. FC Kaiserslautern. Again he proved his worth by reviving the relegated club and taking them back into the Bundesliga at the first attempt. And back in the top flight, Kaiserslautern amazingly won the 1998 championship against all the odds - the first team to do so in their first season after promotion.

Rehhagel left Kaiserslautern in 2000 after a series of internal disputes, taking the Greece job the following year.

Rehhagel built Greece's Euro 2004 success on defence, known to favour two big, strong centre-backs. But one of the stars of his team was Traianos Dellas, the AS Roma player, who would sit in front of the back four and bring the ball out much in the style of Beckenbauer.

Although Greece were far from the most skilful side at the tournament, Rehhagel nurtured a supremely effective unit with each player knowing their job and that of the team. They did not concede a single goal after emerging from a group which also included hosts Portugal, Spain and Russia. Three 1-0 wins, against France, Czech Republic and Portugal, took them to the crown.

Rehhagel had five players in the UEFA squad of the tournament - with skipper Theo Zagorakis, who has since retired, the Player of the Tournament. Dellas, Antonios Nikopolidis, Yourkas Seitaridis and Angelos Charisteas were the others named.

All five players are expected to be in the squad once again this time around, though the player to keep an eye on could be Vasilis Torosidis.

Torosidis has impressed hugely since making his debut for the full squad in March 2007 against Turkey. An adventurous left-sided wing-back with a strong tackle, the player started his career with FC Xanthi before being snapped up by Olympiakos in January 2007. He instantly became a favourite at Karaiskaki Stadium.

The player, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday the same day as Greece's opening match against Sweden, has become a fixture in the international team since moving to Olympiakos.

Also able to operate in midfield, his performances and versatility have alerted the interest of other clubs across Europe with Juventus, AS Monaco, Atletico Madrid and Newcastle United all said to be tracking his progress.

Many believe that Olympiakos will find it impossible to hold on to Torosidis should he have an impressive Euro 2008.

It's unclear whether Rehhagel will go with a 4-3-3 formation or 4-4-2. Captain Angelos Basinas and Konstantinos Katsouranis are certain starters in the centre of midfield while Georgios Karagounis will pull the strings pushing forward. Theofanis Gekas, of Bayer Leverkusen, has cemented a starting berth up front through qualifying but the remaining two places in the attacking roles remain very much up for grabs.


  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Dale Johnson.

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