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Rehhagel opts to stay with Greece March 31, 2008

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Greece’s most successful and longest-serving National Soccer Team coach Otto Rehhagel has agreed to extend his contract and try to lead the side to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Greek Soccer Federation announced the news in a written statement on Saturday after its President, Vassilis Gagatsis, held talks with the 69-year-old German who guided Greece to their unlikely Euro 2004 victory four years ago. No further details of Rehhagel’s contract were made public.

The German has been with Greece since September 2001 when his first game was a 5-1 home defeat to Finland. However, Rehhagel’s impact was evident just one month later when Greece almost scuppered England’s plans for qualifying for the 2002 World Cup by holding them to a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

Rehhagel then led the Greek team to just the second European Championships in its history, before shocking the world of soccer by making it to the final of Euro 2004 and beating hosts Portugal 1-0 in the final. Greece reached the upcoming Euro 2008 tournament as group winners. In total, Rehhagel has been at Greece’s helm for 78 games, winning 43, drawing 16 and losing 19.

Greece’s new soccer squad February 2, 2008

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Greece soccer coach Otto Rehhagel sprang a surprise yesterday by recalling Olympiakos midfielder Ieroklis Stoltidis to the national squad, some eight years after his last appearance, for friendly matches against the Czech Republic on Tuesday and Finland on Wednesday.

Stoltidis, who turns 33 today, has forced his way back into the squad with robust performances for his club in domestic and European competition. But Rehhagel named six total newcomers on his 30-man squad as well. They include five players who have represented Greece at Under-21 level. Greece will play the two games in Cyprus as part of a warmup tournament ahead of this summer’s European Championships in Austria and Switzerland.

Otto shows Greece how to get results October 20, 2007

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Ottocracy. In his six years at the helm of the Greek National Soccer Team, Otto Rehhagel has given a master class in what it takes to get the right result and succeed in Greece.

Something amazing happened this week. A 69-year-old German man guided a motley crew of Greek soccer players to the European Championships for the second time in a row against odds that would deter even the boldest gambler.

A country that has a lamentable domestic league, riddled with petty politics and over-inflated egos, with attendances so low that fingers and toes rather than turnstiles suffice to count them, plus a lack of any outstanding players, will be sending a team to Austria and Switzerland next year to defend the European title they won in 2004. And all this because Greece went to Turkey and beat their rivals in Istanbul for the first time in more than 50 years.

“There are no right or wrong, fair or unfair results. There’s just the final score,” Greece coach Otto Rehhagel said a few years ago. On Wednesday night, the final score was all Greece was interested in.

In his six years at the helm of the Greek national team, Rehhagel has given a master class in what it takes to get the right result and succeed in Greece. He has disregarded the opinions of self-styled experts, adopted a clear vision, displayed mental toughness and fostered a loyalty and team spirit among his players that should make Greece’s political leaders deeply envious.

As an outsider, Rehhagel’s journey in Greece has followed a bumpy road. His first game in charge ended in a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Finland. He failed to take the side to the World Cup in Germany last year. And then there was the humiliating 4-1 defeat against Turkey in March. All these moments have been followed by calls for Rehhagel to pack his bags. On a radio phone-in show that I listened to minutes after Greece’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, presenters and callers referred to the man who had until then been “King Otto” as “the German.”

Again, after the thrashing by Turkey earlier this year, the Nation was plunged into crisis over the state of the National Team. The then Deputy Employment Minister Gerasimos Giakoumatos accused Rehhagel of being “paid a lot of money” and just picking “old-aged pensioners” in his team. Giakoumatos is no longer a member of the government. Rehhagel is still manager of Greece.

Perhaps if he had taken on board what people were saying about him, Rehhagel would have left a long time ago. But it would probably take much more for a man who was described as a “rugged enforcer” and a “thuggish defender” during his playing days to give up the fight.

In 1975, Rehhagel was suspended by the German Soccer Federation and fired by Offenbach, the club he was managing, because he was heard instructing his players to scythe down an opponent. It seems unlikely that this is the type of man who would be concerned by criticism. Rehhagel made his name as a coach at German side Werder Bremen in the 1980s. He led the second-division side to the top flight and established total dominance over the small city; a style which became known as “Ottocracy.”

One of his policies was to bring in players who appeared to be passed their best. It is a tactic he has employed with the Greek National Team and has brought him abundant criticism. During his Bremen days, Rehhagel would explain that “there are no old or young players, there are only good or bad players.”

This echoed jazz musician Duke Ellington’s belief that “there are two types of music: good music and the other kind.” Rehhagel has stuck to his tune regardless of the white noise coming from journalists, fans and commentators. His total belief in his way of doing things has ensured that his players are in complete harmony with him.

“When I arrived the players were talented, but did not obey the rules. Once they understood what they needed to, they could then express themselves,” Rehhagel explained after Greece’s historic victory in Euro 2004.

Obeying the rules has given average players the chance to call themselves the best in Europe and to experience the kind of adulation that they could never have dreamt possible. These players’ joy has been even more intense because they achieved their goals as a team. In a country where teamwork is often a dirty word, Rehhagel has made the value of working together abundantly clear.

Rehhagel has repaid his players’ loyalty by turning down the chance to manage the German national side after Greece’s European Championship success in Euro 2004. He also showed loyalty to Werder Bremen, spending a remarkable 14 years as the club’s manager. He left in 1995 and three years later guided Kaiserslautern to an unlikely German championship. Bremen sank without trace and took years to recover from Otto’s departure.

The final score in Rehhagel’s career in Greece has yet to be written but the results are there for all to see.

Coach Otto Rehhagel hails historic night October 19, 2007

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Composure and stability in Istanbul gave Greece an early Euro 2008 qualification

Greece’s 1-0 win against Turkey in Istanbul on Wednesday night, which sent the European Soccer Champions straight to next summer’s Euro 2008 finals with two rounds of qualifying play remaining, was the National Team’s first victory in the neighboring country in 55 years.

Besides Austria and Switzerland, which both qualified automatically as co-hosts of the Euro 2008 finals, Greece, which now boasts an 8-1-1 record at the top of Group C, is one of four teams now already through. The others are Romania from Group G and the Czech Republic and Germany, both from Group B.

Going into Wednesday’s encounter with most of the work done for a finals berth and two, theoretically, less challenging games, against Malta at home and Hungary away, scheduled for the qualifying campaign’s remainder, Greece was not desperate for victory, let alone a draw. But coach Otto Rehhagel’s men settled quickly despite the frenzied atmosphere generated by the home crowd at Istanbul’s sold-out 25,000-capacity Ali Sami Yen stadium. The Greek team’s composure from early on came as solid proof of Rehhagel’s demand for victory and direct qualification with two games to go. Considering Greece’s number of squandered scoring opportunities throughout the game, the win could have been far greater.

“We wanted revenge for the first game and a place in the finals from now. We played with hearts and minds, went for the game and succeeded in reaching our objective,” said Rehhagel, referring to Greece’s 4-1 home defeat against Turkey last March. “I liked the way our defense line functioned, but we need to improve with our finishing in attack,” he added.

The defeat sunk Turkey to third place, two points behind Norway, a 2-0 winner at Bosnia-Herzegovina later on Wednesday night. In the next round of play, scheduled for November 17, Turkey travels to Norway knowing that defeat would end its qualification hopes. On that night, Greece hosts Malta in what promises to be more a celebration than a competitive soccer match. Victory, however, would assure the Greek team Group C’s top spot.

Turkey’s coach Fatih Terim acknowledged Greece’s superiority in Wednesday’s game. “Congratulations to Greece for the victory and qualification. They were better and deservedly won the match,” said Terim. “We made a mistake when Greece scored by not playing the offside trap well. But Greece had other opportunities to score more goals.”

Greece’s winning goal, which came in the 79th minute, was the first for Yiannis Amanatidis with the National Team. A rising force in the Greek team, Amanatidis, who is captain of Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany’s Bundesliga, noted that “the entire team, not just myself, played a very good game.”

Greece survives scare for vital win October 15, 2007

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European Champions beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-2 in Athens after letting early lead slip > Greece is within touching distance of Euro 2008 after beating 10-man Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-2 in Athens on Saturday night.

Otto Rehhagel’s squad survived a scare in the second half when the visitors pegged them back to 1-1 after Angelos Charisteas opened the score in the 11th minute. But Bosnia’s goal hero Mirko Hrgovic turned villain within two minutes of his equalizer when he was sent off.

Greece was able to exploit the extra man and cruised to the win thanks to goals from Fanis Gekas and substitute Nikos Liberopoulos. Vedad Ibisevic, also a substitute, pulled one back for Bosnia in the second minute of injury time.

In a disappointing first half, Greece went ahead after Charisteas took four attempts to finish off the best move of the match. Greece was shocked into action when Bosnian midfielder Hrgovic rifled a foul into Antonis Nikopolidis’s top corner in the 55th minute. Hrgovic’s involvement ended just a minute later when he was sent off for a crunching foul on Greek captain Angelos Basinas.

Three minutes after that, Basinas found Gekas in the penalty area on his own and the striker slotted home. The European Champions wrapped up the game when Liberopoulos scored in the 73rd minute. Ibisevic’s goal came seconds before the final whistle.

Work still lies ahead for a place at Euro 2008 October 12, 2007

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Work still lies ahead for a place at Euro 2008, warns coach Otto Rehhagel >  Greece hosts Bosnia tomorrow with a two-point lead as campaign enters final stretch

Greece may hold an advantage over its rivals in Euro 2008 qualifying competition as the group front-runner but coach Otto Rehhagel remained cautious at a news conference yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“After drawing in Oslo, the situation is favorable for us and we can qualify, but we mustn’t underestimate Bosnia,” Rehhagel told reporters. “They have beaten Norway and Turkey and can still qualify. Players from the former Yugoslavia are all technically gifted so we must be very careful and perform at a high level. I hope our fans will be there to support us this weekend.”

Greece leads Group C with 19 points from eight games, two points ahead of Turkey and Norway, which has played an additional game. Bosnia is four points behind the two, after nine games. The top two teams qualify for next summer’s finals in Austria and Switzerland. Tomorrow’s game is Greece’s first at the Olympic Stadium since Otto Rehhagel took over as coach in the summer of 2001.

Recent crowd problems at Karaiskaki Stadium that led to a two-match fan ban for the Nnational team, subdued performances in Greece’s unsuccessful bid to reach the 2006 World Cup finals, and a 4-1 thrashing at the Piraeus stadium against Turkey, all combined to prompt the venue change.

“The fact we’re playing at the Olympic Stadium is not that important,” the 69-year-old Rehhagel said. “Every pitch has the same dimensions. The Bosnians will only have an advantage if we let them play, not because of the ground,” he added. The Olympic Stadium’s 65,000 capacity is double that of Karaiskaki Stadium, a venue whose pitch is not surrounded by a running track. Rehhagel said he would be content with a turnout of about 50,000 fans tomorrow night.

After Bosnia, Greece is hosted by Turkey next Wednesday. Though Greek fans may be more preoccupied by the match against the neighboring rivals, Rehhagel refused to look ahead.

“What concerns me right now is the Bosnia match,” Rehhagel said. “I will deal with the encounter with Turkey after that. We just want to defeat Bosnia and get three points on a day when Norway don’t play,” he continued, referring to Noway’s bye tomorrow.

Comparing his team’s Euro 2008 campaign to the failed World Cup bid, Rehhagel said his players had minimized personal errors. “We were all disappointed by our failure to qualify for the World Cup finals. We made lots of personal errors in that campaign but we’ve reduced them to a minimum now,” said Rehhagel.

Strikers Fanis Gekas and Angelos Charisteas, both injured, are considered doubtful for tomorrow’s game. Meanwhile, in Greek Cup fourth-round matches yesterday, it was: Ilioupolis-Larissa, 0-4; Agrotikos Asteras-Ergotelis, 1-0; Messiniakos-Asteras Tripolis, 0-2; Aghios Dimitrios-Aris, 0-1.