Greeks already champions in eyes of adoring public

Agence France Presse

Braga, June 29:

Greece defender Stylianos Giannakopoulos believes his team are already champions in the eyes of their adoring public having reached the semi-finals of Euro 2004. The Greeks were not expected to go beyond the group stage but they clinched a place in the last eight at Spain’s expense before beating defending champions France in the quarter-finals last Friday.

Otto Rehhagel’s side will face the Czech Republic in Thursday’s semi-final at the Dragao stadium in Oporto, but win or lose Giannakopoulos says the Greeks will still be celebrating.

“We have spoken to our friends and families back home and whatever happens from now on there will be a big party when we return,” Giannakopoulos said proudly at the team’s headquarters here in northern Portugal.

“These have been the best days for Greek football and now we have nothing to lose.”

Giannakopoulos, who has missed the last two matches with a shin injury but is expected to be recalled to face the Czechs, said the team’s strength was its excellent team spirit.

“We fight for each other, play for each other and that is our strength,” said the 29-year-old Bolton Wanderers defender. “Now we have built a winning mentality and we feel that we can match any team.” Giannakopoulos said German coach Rehhagel and captain Theo Zagorakis were fundamental to the team’s success which has taken them one step away from a place in the final.

“The coach has enormous responsibility and he is there for us on the good days and the bad days,” he said of the man known affectionately as ‘King Otto’, who won two Bundesliga titles in Germany with Werder Bremen. “Zagorakis is our captain and he is the perfect example to follow for everybody in the team. He is the most capped player and has the respect of everybody.” Inter Milan midfielder Georgios Karagounis said the Greeks would not change their game plan against the Czechs, who have won all four of their matches on the way to the semis. “We are not Brazil, we stick to what we are best at,” he said. “We have come this far and we are proud of what we have achieved. We have nothing to lose but it’s such a huge occasion we don’t want to let it pass us by. We desperately want to reach the final.”