Rehhagel: We’re playing well
Greece recorded the greatest triumph in their footballing
history by winning the UEFA EURO 2004 trophy on 4 July 2004, and
Otto Rehhagel's men have recaptured their fine form in their
bid to qualify for the 2008 finals.
Currently four points clear of Turkey at the top of the Group C standings with 22 points from nine matches, Greece are within touching distance of sealing a berth at UEFA EURO 2008, as towering defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos acknowledges. "Obviously we have a great chance."
It's up to us and no-one else, our destiny is in our own hands. We want to make the finals, and I'm absolutely certain we'll succeed," the Eintracht Frankfurt centre-back told FIFA.com.
The Greeks' German coach Otto Rehhagel is pleased with his team's effort so far: "We're playing well at the moment," declares the man known as King Otto, who was made an honorary citizen of Athens after guiding his side to continental gold in Portugal.
The 69-year-old harbours fond memories of the momentous events in Lisbon. "I'll never forget our arrival back in Greece. The day after the final, thousands of people turned out to greet us and celebrate in Athens," Rehhagel recalls.
Drawing strength from adversity
A decline in fortunes was destined to follow the Lord Mayor's show for Rehhagel's team, who then suffered a slump in form and failed to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
"Individual errors in qualifying matches cost us a place at the World Cup," reasons the respected coach, who was appointed to the Greece helm on 9 August 2001.
On reflection, Rehhagel has identified a positive side to his team's failure to appear at the global showpiece. "Not qualifying for the World Cup in Germany has made us stronger," the three-time DFB German Cup winner insists.
As in 2004, defending remains Greece's speciality. A
rock-solid rearguard was the pivotal factor in 1-0 victories over
France in the quarter-finals, Czech Republic in the last four and
hosts Portugal in the European final just over three years ago.
The current team actually conceded two goals against Bosnia and Herzegovina in their most recent UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying victory, but Rehhagel's side fundamentally boasts a resolute backline, keeping a clean sheet in five of their nine qualifiers so far.
"Otto Rehhagel is a great believer in defence and that's where we're strong. We keep it very tight and deny our opponents space. I think it's fair to say our hard work in defence is the key to our success," Kyrgiakos said.
Three points to go
Greece require just three points to be absolutely sure of a place at next year's tournament in Austria and Switzerland, so the 2004 continental champions could book their place at the finals as early as this coming Wednesday.
Victory away to Turkey would herald the end of stage one in the Greeks' pursuit of a stunning back-to-back triumph, but celebrated supremo Rehhagel refuses to think that far ahead: "All that concerns me at the moment is qualifying for the EURO 2008 finals. I'm not contemplating anything else," he insisted.
Taking their cue from the boss, Rehhagel's men are not wasting time on dreams of repeating their 2004 finals feat. Frankfurt captain Ioannis Amanatidis, fresh from earning a 19th international cap last Saturday, typifies the attitude in the Greece dressing room. "I'm putting all my effort into qualifying for EURO 2008."
"I very much want to take part in it. It would be my first major tournament, and I desperately want to know what it feels like," the 26-year-old striker revealed.