Theofanis Gekas

Greece surprised everybody in Euro 2004. Can you do that again? We hope so. We were like a family for that tournament – we played for one and for all. That togetherness played the most important role in winning the tournament. What we must do now – and I believe that it has been achieved – is to play like a family again; to play good games; to be serious and disciplined. I don’t know if it will be enough to win the World Cup because that would be a very big thing to do, but I believe we’ll get to the second stage.

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You won Euro 2004 and failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006. What is the expectation of the Greek people? Just to qualify is a big achievement for us because we have only played in one other World Cup finals, in 1994. We want to enjoy the tournament, for it to be a celebration of football. I wasn’t in the squad for Euro 2004, so this will be my highlight. I’ve been reading all about South Africa and consider it a privilege to be going.

When Greece played in 1994, your group contained Argentina and Nigeria, the same as now... I don’t have pleasant memories of that competition. It was like they were our bogey teams. We lost 0-4 against Argentina and Bulgaria, then 0-2 against Nigeria. Greece has much more experience now, so we will avoid a disaster like in 1994.

Our manager [Otto] Rehhagel has changed many things since he started. First of all, as I said, he turned us into a family, which is something that was missing. And second, he has changed the attitude that we should have when we go into matches so that we don’t play in a state of fear. He convinces us that the other team are not better than us. Also, he’s a very happy person, which reflects on the group, but he’s serious at the same time.

What do you know about the teams in your group? Argentina were poor in qualifying, but they still qualified and they still have players like Messi. They have to prove themselves, but honestly, I hope they are still poor so that we can beat them in South Africa. Argentina will be the favourites from our group, but – Messi aside – they don’t have the players they used to have. Maybe they will be excellent, maybe poor. Who knows with Argentina?

As for Nigeria, we can overcome them. They have a rich history in the World Cup and have qualified more than any other African team.

We have played South Korea in a friendly game and beat them so we know about them. That’s our most important game because it’s our first and they will be as unfamiliar with South Africa as us. They have a lot of running, are strong and extend their pressure over the entire pitch. That will make it more difficult for us. They don’t have too many players who play in the strongest leagues in Europe, though, so that will benefit us. They have Park Ji-Sung, who is a very important player for Manchester United; he’s very fast and skilful.

Who is the Greek dangerman? I’d rather not talk about players individually, but talk about us as a team. We are very strong defensively, as we were in 2004, but we also have good attacking players who score goals.

We must also mention our supporters, who I believe are the best in the world. They are so colourful and passionate. Because of the Greek communities in South Africa, I’m sure that we will have a lot of support. My only thing with the supporters is that when something good happens, like in 2004, everyone wants to be part of the celebration. And when something bad happens, the team becomes their enemy.

Who is the best player in the World? Lionel Messi. He proves that almost every time he plays football. On a good day he can carry his team on his shoulders and take them wherever he wants. There must be a way to stop him from being so good.

What is your earliest World Cup memory? Mexico in 1986, when Maradona scored the goal with his hand. As a child, I also remember watching Marco van Basten. I’m not even sure if it was in a World Cup, but I remember him clearly in the orange kit. He’s the best player that I’ve ever seen. Before his injury, his style was unique because he could score from anywhere.

What do you think of England’s chances? England are very strong and a very good team. There are many good players, but I don’t want to mention specific names because there are so many and I don’t want to leave any out!

Interview: June 2010.

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