Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt have shown a liking for Greeks in recent years. Friedhelm Funkel’s squad featured captain Ioannis Amanatidis, towering defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos and rangy forward Evangelos Mantzios last term, and although the Hellenic contingent has been reduced to two this campaign, one of them is a newcomer.
Nikos Liberopoulos arrived in the summer from AEK Athens, where he scored 65 goals in 134 appearances over the last five years. The burly striker is hoping to establish a productive partnership with Amanatidis as a rejuvenated Eintracht seek to build on last season’s vastly-improved ninth-placed finish. On the eve of Greece's opening qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, FIFA.com spoke to the duo.
FIFA.com: Ioannis, you are one of the leading dressing-room personalities at Eintracht Frankfurt. The squad has been strengthened this season with the arrival of Nikos, Umit Korkmaz and Habib Bellaid, so what can you achieve?
Ioannis Amanatidis: We’ve definitely added depth to the squad, although that was a must with the quality in the Bundesliga these days. We have youngsters who can only get better, and I think they could be a shade stronger than they were last term. Once all our injured players return, I think the squad is good enough for a repeat of our successful season last year. We shouldn’t forget that many of our young players have gained a lot of experience by now, which should certainly help us this season.
Nikos, the season is only just underway, but what do you feel are the differences in approach between the Bundesliga and the Greek top flight?
Nikos Liberopoulos: In terms of professionalism, the Greek league is on a par with the Bundesliga. You have to focus and work hard in both leagues. Discipline and punctuality are more important in Germany. Players are required to observe more rules here, but I like the discipline and excellent organisation. Out on the training ground there are plenty of similarities. I actually don’t believe there can be that many differences around Europe any more.
Ioannis, Eintracht now have Martin Fenin, Nikos and yourself as option up front. Will we see the team play with a three-pronged attack?
(We also have) Umit Korkmaz who’ll also be in contention for a place in the forward line once he returns from injury. I’m sure our system will change continually throughout the season. We worked on lots of variations in pre-season and we’re tactically very flexible. We can operate with one, two or even more of us up front. But you don’t play exhibition football in the Bundesliga, you always get punished for all-out attacking. The team has to be well organised in every area of the field, from the back to the front.
Nikos, what are your goals for your first season in the Bundesliga?
As a striker I obviously want to be scoring, although my initial target is to play as often as possible and help the team hit the targets we’ve set ourselves.
Turning to the national team, Greece go into South Africa 2010 qualifying on the back of a disappointing UEFA EURO 2008, where you failed to match the achievements in Portugal four years earlier. How is the mood in the camp?
We know we had a poor EURO, so we’re totally focused on World Cup qualifying now. Everything from the past doesn’t matter any more, we start again from the beginning. You should never look back, you’ve always got to be looking to the future. I’m certain we’ll qualify for South Africa.
Ioannis, Greece were criticised during and after the EURO for employing defensive tactics. Will we see a more attack-minded side during the FIFA World Cup preliminaries?
Nobody questions the tactics when you’re winning, but people go looking for reasons when you lose. I think the coach can only choose tactics to suit the players he has available. But I’m also sure we’ll be working very hard in this area to give ourselves tactical alternatives for the future. But at the end of the day, success is all that matters.
Nikos, you're in a group with Israel, Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg. How do you rate your chances of winning the group and qualifying directly for South Africa 2010?
I think Israel and Switzerland are our biggest rivals, without wishing to underestimate the likes of Moldova and Luxembourg. I’m sure Switzerland under new coach Ottmar Hitzfeld will be a lot stronger. But you don’t win games in World Cup qualifying just by turning up nowadays. You have to go to the limit in every game, because there are no gifts on offer. But I’m confident we’ll come through and make the trip to South Africa.
Ioannis, Greece missed out on a place at Germany 2006. How disappointed would you be if you fail to make it to South Africa?
As a footballer, you’re always disappointed when you miss your targets but I’m not thinking that far ahead just yet. We’re going into qualifying with the intention of booking a place in South Africa, and the only thought we have is that we’re confident of making it.