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World Soccer: How is the mood in the Greek camp?

Giorgos Karagounis: Very good, very positive. We will go to the Euros with ambitions fuelled both by the fact that we qualified for the finals in first place and were unbeaten, and also by the fact that squad spirit is very good. We can’t wait for the tournament to start.

How has the transition between coaches Otto Rehhagel and Fernando Santos affected the squad?

At first the transition was a bit difficult because there were some changes, not only in the game plan but also in the daily schedule and rules which were imposed by the new coach. But these changes were absorbed quickly and
any problems were overcome.

What are the team’s strengths?

The spirit which distinguishes us, as well as the faith in each other and in ourselves is the belief that we can achieve something good. I doubt if you would find a team with more passion for achievement when representing their country. We will give it our all in order
to qualify for the knockout rounds.

You played in the Euro 2004-winning team. How does this one compare?

Today’s team, with the exception of one or two more experienced and older players, is more youthful. In the style of play there are a number of similarities, but there is also the diversity in our attacking game which probably wasn’t there in 2004.

Do you believe Greece can repeat the miracle of 2004?

Such things do not happen often. Even countries with great potential have failed to win a second Euro in such a short time. It is even harder when you consider that our infrastructure, as well as the domestic league, is not the best. But we have faith and passion in the team and this overrides any disadvantages.

In a tournament like the Euros it’s about getting out of the group. Let’s do that first then see. If we manage to qualify for the last eight, we’ll have the same chance as anyone else. Certainly there are teams that stand out, such as Germany, Spain, Italy or Holland. But we also have ambitions. Don’t forget, we are in the finals for the third time in a row and that says a lot.

What of your group rivals?

Poland will be playing at home and thus will have their supporters behind them. Russia has quality and talent. The Czech Republic is never absent from major tournaments. All are good teams. We, if you look at the past decade, are more stable in our course and our successes. If we’re in the right form at the right time we can achieve a lot.

As the most-capped player in the team, what has stood out during your international career?

Obviously winning the Euro 2004 Final against Portugal. On the same level of importance and joy it has to be the second play-off match against Ukraine to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. That match was a great opportunity, perhaps the last for many of the team, to play
in a World Cup finals. The odds were against us, we were down to nine men but achieved a great victory, one of the
most significant in the history of our national team.

How have Greece’s economic problems, and those of clubs like Panathinaikos, affected you?

Clearly this is not the best thing for some players, who have an uncertain future. There are many problems in football and in the country, and we all live them. But when it is time to fight for the national team, especially in a big tournament, there is no room for these thoughts.
We must commit ourselves to the team and its goals. Even so, it will be an extra motivation for us to give joy to our compatriots during the tournament, to help them forget the problems of everyday life for a short time at least.

Interview by Lou Economopoulos

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