Greek media in thoughtful mood
The look on the faces of the Greece players said it all as they bade farewell to their UEFA EURO 2008 chances. The reigning champions' defence of the crown they won in Portugal four years ago lasted just two games, and all that Otto Rehhagel's charges can now hope to do is salvage a little pride in their final match on Wednesday evening against under-strength Spain, who have already won Group D.
As the inquest in the national side's dramatic fall from
FIFA.com caught up with Greece's football
correspondents on duty in Austria and got their views on what went
Perhaps surprisingly, the fiercest criticism of the Greeks' lacklustre performances has come from the foreign press. That said, the country's football reporters have struggled to find positive angles on a dispiriting few days in the Alps.
"People haven't been quite as critical at home as they have elsewhere," explains Alexandros Spyropoulos of the newspaper Eleftherotypia, a view shared by his colleague from Exedra, Dimitris Theodoropoulos. "The national press never demanded that they go and win the title again, but they did want to see some good football. And outside Greece the team has always been criticised for playing a destructive game."
When it comes to analysing the factors behind the debacle, a number of different reasons are put forward. "The players weren't in very good shape either physically or mentally," continues Alexandros. "In my view that was mostly due to organisational problems. The planning for the squad get-together in the build-up to the tournament left a lot to be desired. There weren't any medical tests for a start and the players looked edgy. And when it came to the tournament we were disappointing. Nobody came through from midfield or defence to support the attack and we gave away two ridiculous goals. Not just that, we didn't take any of the few chances we created. When you think about it, it's no wonder we didn't get any points."
"We expected more from this team," says Ioannis Fragkoulopoulos, a correspondent with sports publication Protathlitis. "We were confident they'd get through the group phase even though we knew it would be hard. All the other teams know exactly how Greece play and they approached the games accordingly, and that made things much tougher than they were in 2004."
"The players are tired and they didn't perform well, but there wasn't any pressure on them from the media," explains Dimitris.
An uncertain future
"This team is completely different to the one we saw in Portugal," opines Ioannis Koukoulas of the daily Kathimerini. "It has lost its zip. Otto Rehhagel is still using the same ideas and our opponents could see exactly what gameplan we were going to use. I've completely lost confidence in the coach now."
Even though the German failed to guide his side to the last FIFA World Cup™ finals, his love affair with the fans looked set to continue. But as they digest this latest letdown, will those same fans now turn their backs on the veteran tactician?
"There's definitely some concern about the coach," adds Alexandros. "He'll be turning 70 soon and he's been in the job for seven years now. Obviously he deserves credit because when he took over we were 61 in the FIFA rankings and now we're eighth. But the big question is whether he can bring something new to the team or if he's just going to carry on playing the same way without changing anything. The Greek FA has renewed his contract to 2010, although there is speculation in Germany that he could resign. It's all up in the air at the moment."
As his colleague Fragkoulopoulos explains, however, there is still plenty of backing for the coach, albeit with some provisos. "People still have faith in the coach but the key will be whether Rehhagel knows how to build a new team with the same chemistry as there was in 2004 and take it back to the top again. The World Cup qualifiers are a good opportunity to see that."
Not surprisingly attention is now turning to the Greeks' next major hurdle, the qualifying group for South Africa 2010. "It's a good draw and we've got a chance," says Alexandros. "Just to make the finals is a success for middle-ranking European teams like Greece, and this tournament has been a lesson for the fans back home. Greek football is all about ups and downs."
"We knew 2004 was a miracle and that things like that don't happen every year," concludes the special correspondent from Protathlitis with an air of resignation shared by all his compatriots and fellow journalists.