Tuesday 10 June 2008

Greece refuse to yield grip on trophy

Greece's goalscoring hero in the UEFA European Championship final four years ago, Angelos Charisteas warned "we are not going to hand the trophy back easily" as the holders prepare to open their title defence against Sweden.

Wild dream
Charisteas is a living legend in Greece, his match-winning header in the UEFA EURO 2004 final against Portugal providing a significant entry in the pantheon of Greek football. "Every player, when he becomes a professional and an international, has an unspoken dream: to score a very important goal for his country," the 28-year-old happily recalled. "Not in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined that there would come a time when I would score the winner in the final of a European championship. Of course, this goal was the turning point of my life; not only did I become better known to the people, but I helped my country achieve a great feat."

It is an achievement that will take some effort to repeat. Rated as 100-1 outsiders in Portugal, few are tipping Greece for success this time either, the mantra that lightning never strikes twice holding sway. Unsurprisingly, Charisteas believes differently: "We were the surprise package four years ago and it's only normal that they expect another side to win it this time. We earned our qualification for the tournament, though, after a huge effort in qualifying over the last two years. Rest assured, we are not going to hand the trophy back easily. We are coming to the competition to give it all we've got and to prove we were deserved winners of the title four years ago".

Rehhagel motivation
That success was built on defensive cohesion, a united squad of players responding well to the orders of coach Otto Rehhagel and bowing to the adage that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole. "What impressed us about Mr Rehhagel from day one was that he came to Greece with an open mind," Charisteas continued. "He showed us that Greek players are very talented, but that we need to find discipline on the pitch to put this talent to good use. He taught us that, if we fight on the pitch, we can win a lot of games. A big part of our success is due to his influence. Sometimes we get under extreme pressure in our games and we shouldn't. We should be more at ease because, to tell you the truth, we have nothing to prove. We have already shown our worth."