As part of an ongoing series of interviews ahead of Euro 2008, Angelos Charisteas, the Greek forward of FC Nuremberg, told DW that his countrymen are better prepared to win in 2008 than they were four years ago.
Charisteas is a favorite with colleagues and fans alike after his Euro 2004 heroics
Greece achieved its greatest soccer success -- winning the 2004 European Championship title -- thanks to goals by 28 year old Angelos Charisteas. In the quarter finals against France he scored the decisive goalin the 1-0 win, and then put the winner into the net against the hosts Portugal in the final. Not surprisingly, then, he has achieved cult soccer-hero status in his native country.
In the Bundesliga, he has played for Werder Bremen (2002-2004) and Nuremberg, where he is signed until 2011.
Angelos Charisteas, Greece is going to Euro 2008 as the defending champion. Are they this year’s favorite as well?
No, I don’t think we are the favorite for any title. That would be, once again, the big teams: France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Italy. We are a good team – I think even better than 2004. But we’re no favorites.
Why do you think this year’s Greek national team is better than that from four years ago?
We have a lot of new players, and the coach has more possibilities. We didn’t have that in 2004. We had only 13 or 14 good players, but now we have 18, and all 18 could be starters. We just have a better team now.
Since Greece won in 2004, logic dictates that they would win this year again, if the team is even better.
Greece celebrate after beating Portugal 1-0 in 2004
Yes, but that is just theoretical. The key is that we are part of the tournament. It is our second European Championship in a row, and for Greece it is very important. We are number eight in the world rankings. I think that’s great and I hope that we can perform well in Austria. I’m happy if we play well -- that’s the most important thing form.
So you don’t believe there will be any surprises this time?
I think anything is possible. But I’m realistic. We aren’t favored to win. We are the current European Champions, and on the other side are 15 very good teams in the tournament. We have to perform as well as we did last time, then we have a good chance.
Greece celebrated its greatest success with the Euro 2004 title. But since then things have unfortunately gone downhill: You didn’t qualify for the 2006 World Cup, and your qualification for Euro 2008 was turbulent, but successful. Is Greece on its way back up?
After the great success in 2004 we went into a rut. I think that’s normal. We weren’t at the World Cup, but with 31 points in the Euro 2008 qualification rounds, we showed we are in top form, and can really pull through.
As you proved during 2-1 the friendly match that you won against Portugal in March.
Of course, but Portugal has good players, and a good team with big names. We respect them and have won the respect of all of Europe.
So you’ve made it to the European Championships twice in a row, but not into the World Cup. Are the European Championships more meaningful for Greece than the World Cup?
No. The World Cup is important to us. Perhaps more important than the European Championships. But on the other hand we performed well in 2004 and then in 2006 we weren’t so strong. Now we are stronger. That’s all. For me it is important to be there through to the end of the tournament. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
Does Germany play an important role in the development of Greek soccer?
Yes, I think so. There are four of us in the Bundesliga (Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Ioannis Amanatidis, Theofanis Gekas) and of course our coach comes from Germany. I think we are all happy to play in the Bundesliga. It is also very important for Otto Rehhagel, because he can communicate with us much better if we speak German. That is really, really important.
So within the team you are a person who plays a role of helping communicate between the coach and the other players?
Basically that is the job of the assistant trainer. But sometimes I translate into Greek or into German. I like to do it. I understand my coach very well, which is important for me.
Is Otto Rehhagel still so well liked in Greece?
Rehhagel is a king in Greece, according to Charisteas
Yes, now more so than four years ago. After seven years on the job, he has the most successes to celebrate with the Greek national team. Besides, he just extended his contract for two more years. In Greece, the man is a king.
Let’s take a look at the opponents Greece will face in its draw.
Sweden is a very strong team, with good tactics. Russia has a lot of talent -- we saw it in the UEFA Cup with FC Zenit -- we’ll have to be careful. Spain is a known quantity for us. They are a very good team with superstars. All three are very strong opponents. I think all 16 participants in the final round of the European Championships are top quality. But whatever opponent we face, we can beat them if we perform well.
How far will Greece get in Euro 2008?
First, I have to say clearly that we are not the favorites. We have a strong team and a chance to get further. I think we can make it through the group phase into the quarterfinals. For me, that would be a great success. After that, anything is possible.
What do you expect of the German national team?
The Germans are always a favorite. Now they have a new team with a few new players, and a new generation. You can talk and talk about soccer, but in the end it comes down to what happens on the playing field.
Who is your personal favorite?
I think Italy will be European champions. But we’ll have to see.