Greek Press Sings Paeans to Its Heroes

Greece's sports media reported yesterday that after Wednesday's 2-1 World Cup qualifier victory over Israel in Crete, Greece coach Otto Rehhagel looked as if a rock the size of Mount Olympus had been lifted from his shoulders.

"It was like a final match," he said. "It's good we knew how to rise to the occasion and win. A special thanks is due to the fans, who supported us through the whole match."

Midfielder Kostas Katsouranis said the home side simply wanted it more: "We wanted to win more than the opponent did. After all, for most of us, this is our first opportunity to take part in the World Cup."

"Samaras, we love you!" cried a giant headline in the newspaper Goal News over striker Georgios Samaras, a Crete native. With his match-winning penalty kick, it gushed, he had "sent Greece to South Africa."

"It seems the Israeli team will have to watch Greece's matches on television," it continued, in a less than subtle sideswipe at the team's vanquished foe. Nor did it handle Rehhagel with kid gloves, describing the manager's brand of soccer as "dull and soporific."

Sport Day opined that Greece's best men were its fans, and with them on board the squad deserves to bring home the cup. "The Greek team was good in the first half, but after the equalizer by Israel it went into a panic, until Samaras scored the perfect penalty kick after coming off the bench. It was a victory characterized by anarchy," it said.

Light on Sports wrote "From the heights of Psiloritis [the country's highest mountain, located in Crete], the Greek national team can clearly see South Africa."

"Despite the goal it scored, Israel didn't threaten the Greek goal at all. Defender Avraam Papadopoulos contained a fantastic player named Ben Sahar, forcing coach Dror Kashtan to switch him at half-time. Yossi Benayoun played just one half, and hardly resembled the star we all know," it said.

The paper gave its highest marks to Papadopoulos and forward Dimitris Salpigidis - 8 stars out of 10 - with Tal Ben Haim earning the highest mark for the visitors with 7, followed by Dudu Awat, Dekel Keinan and Elyaniv Barda with 6.5. Benayoun was given a meager 4, and Sahar a lowly 2.