Rehhagel tactics pay off again for Greece

ATHENS - Champagne corks flew and cigars were being lit on board the Greek charter flight as the players celebrated their qualification for next year's World Cup following their 1-0 win in Ukraine.

But amid all the hubbub Greece coach Otto Rehhagel chose to remain in his seat throughout the flight, toasting his players only once, sitting down.

The 71-year-old German, who had just steered his team to yet another major tournament after two consecutive European championship appearances in his 100th game in charge, was his usual stoical self.

His players were planning to go out and celebrate immediately after arriving in Athens as dozens of television cameras covered their arrival at 0400 in the morning.

Rehhagel remained in the baggage claim area until every player and official had left and all but a handful of hard-core Greece fans remained to greet him in the arrivals area.

Greek media consistently call him stubborn as Rehhagel has stuck with ageing players, at times even calling up players who are without a team.

But once again his insistence on sticking with his ideas paid off.

"We will play exciting football when we have (Lionel) Messi, Kaka, (Andres) Iniesta and Xavi on the team," Rehhagel told a Ukrainian reporter who asked when his team would produce more spectacular soccer and not just get results.


Rehhagel is fully aware his pool of players is far smaller than in many other European countries and if he is to get the results he has to do it his way.

The former Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich coach was lambasted for his team's sluggish performance in their goalless World Cup European playoff first leg against Ukraine in Athens five days ago.

A five-man defensive formation made sure Greece did not concede a goal. At the end of the match Rehhagel was alone in claiming a small victory, saying a goalless draw at home was vital in such a play-off.

Greek media were already speculating who would succeed him once he failed to take the team to the World Cup in South Africa.

The German brushed aside harsh criticism and fielded again five defenders in Donetsk on Wednesday with Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Vangelis Moras, both playing in Italy's Serie A, forming a superb central defence.

"We knew we would play with counter attacks. We had four of our key defenders missing through injuries so it was always going to be a struggle. But one of the breaks paid off and we got the goal we wanted," he said of Dimitris Salpigidis's 32nd-minute winner.

Rehhagel will now be able to take part in his first World Cup after five decades in the game and can, no doubt, claim to have done it his way.