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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 06 April 2019
32 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 6 APRIL 2019 SPORT DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 European champion looking for Aussie challenge Giannis Topalidis, former assistant to German coach Otto Rehhagel, is seeking to expand his managerial horizons by taking over an Australian club ALEX ANYFANTIS It was 15 years ago when 'boring' Greece went from never winning a game at a major tournament to lifting the trophy at Euro 2004. That year heroes made history and Greeks never forgot the joy of being crowned European champions. Giannis Topalidis, one of the heroes that made history as a member of the great Greek national team, is in Australia and looking for his next challenge. As Otto Rehhagel's former assistant he saw firsthand how the squad went from 1501 outsiders to a lean defensive machine. Now, in Melbourne, he hopes to find a team with which he can live more thrills. "Australia is a highly impres- sive and modern country," he told Neos Kosmos. "I myself am a Greek away from home since I grew up in Germany, so whenever I go back and talk to my friends, we always agree that the only countries that are as advanced as Germany are Australia and Canada. "I also know about the local league as well, I mean I can't know all the details since I'm not physically there, but I fol- low both the A-League and the NPLs." The idea of living in Australia first took root in his mind when Mr Topalidis came down for a match with the Greek legends of 2004. "We played a friendly (game) in Melbourne against the national team of Australia. That's when I had the chance to see the country and I was highly impressed. I also remember we were astounded by the high number of Greeks that came out to watch us play," he said. Mr Topalidis began his pro- fessional career as a football manager, aged 29, moving on to acquire his UEFA Pro license after completing a course in Poland back in 1994. He has been on the bench of many teams since then, but after working as an assistant manager at Hertha Berlin, he began to feel nostalgic of Greece and so he started looking for work in his homeland. That's when he was notified about the position of assistant manager for the national team, although as he admits, he felt a bit put off initially. "I spoke to one of my associates at Hertha and he informed me of the job, saying Could we see European champion of 2004 Giannis Topalidis (pictured right) on the bench of an Australian team? I was the 'perfect person' for it. I called in and initially I was told that there were other candidates for the spot and that Mr Rehhagel had not made up his mind yet," he said. "Then came Greece's match against Finland in Helsinki, where we were annihilated 5-1. But I hadn't joined the team at the time. After that game, Mr Rehhagel himself called me and said he wanted to meet with me." The former assistant to the great German coach reveals the story of how that group of players that had absolutely no confidence in themselves or each other went on to become a team capable of defeating even the toughest of opponents. Rehhagel, who was seen as the man most responsible for the team's success, became the first foreign manager ever to win a European Championship and remains the only one to date. Despite not having a star-studded line-up, the Greek team won the championship, conceding no goals in the knockout stage. THE FIRST HINTS OF SUCCESS "My first game was against England, that 2-2 in Manchester, and already from there we saw some good elements. Afterwards we played some friendlies and we began to see a clear impression that this team wouldn't let us down," he said. "We had the impression that we could achieve something. And by that, I don't mean that we thought we would go and win the European championship, we just knew that this was a group of players we could put our faith in. We believed they could stand on a very high level. Then the preliminaries began and we lost our first two games to Spain and Ukraine. But afterwards, we remained undefeated for 18 months! And that's how we got to Portugal with so much confidence. Every time the team stepped on to the field, we knew that they would stand their ground. Of course, there were many other contributing factors as well, we had our fair share of luck, but the players performed admirably in all of the games." And this success came at a higher level of difficulty than it would have for any other of the participating teams, since the Greek Federation didn't really seem to believe much in their efforts in order to invest in them. "We managed to do this with just two people on the training team; head coach and assistant. We had no gymnast, no goalkeeper trainer, no analyst, we did everything ourselves. Can you imagine, just two people being on the training team while all other teams had over 10?" Mr Topalidis said. The team succeeded by adopting a defensive approach, with energetic midfielders wearing down the opponents and the policy of defending in numbers to numb the opposition's attacks. When charged with boring play, Rehaggel said that "a coach adapts the tactics to the characteristics of the available players." A coach himself now, Mr Topalidis states that the teams of the historic 2004 team still stay in touch. He adds that they would like to play a friendly game here in Australia sometime for all the Greeks that live here. "We meet quite often. Just recently we played at Giannena for a charity cause, while on 4 July we're looking to prepare yet another game against a team of legends from another country. Mr Rehhagel and I are close friends, even though we live many miles away from one another. After so many years of working together, how could we not be?"
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