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GRE/GREECE 

As this is the first time in Olympic history that a Greek team will have taken part in the women’s Volleyball tournament,it is guaranteed to be a landmark performance. But with this ground breaking venture into the top level of international women’s Volleyball comes the pressure from within to perform in front of their home fans on their home court.

Ranked 22nd in the world, the Greek women’s team has a big challenge ahead of them. Their best international performance to date is a 10th place finish at the 2002 World Championships. Although results have been slightly better in the four European Championships in which they have competed,(1985 – 12th, 1991 – 8th, 1993 – 9th and 2001 – 11th), this team is still lacking from regular high level international competition.

Failure to qualify for the Final Round of the 2003 European Championships illustrates the tough assignment ahead for Greece in 2004. In their European Championship qualifying pool, which included Serbia and Montenegro, the Netherlands and France, Greece finished tied with Serbia and Montenegro behind the Netherlands to watch the Dutch team progress to the next phase. Eight players have more than 100 caps to their name but it is the type of experience that has been centred principally on the European stage.

Two changes in technical direction hasn’t helped Greece’s preparation. Legendary coach Dimitiris Floros was replaced by Giannis Nikolakis – a former national coach, from 1994 to 1997 – in December, 2003. Following the sudden resignation of Nikolakis in July, Floros has returned but it is not the best way for a team to approach the Olympic Games. However, Floros is very experienced having coached the side since 1999 and he is familiar with the set up. Key players Maria and Niki Gkaragouni, Eleni Memetzi, Charikleia Sakkoula, Sofia Iordanidou and Maria Chatzinikolaou will also be holding the team together on its difficult mission but if there is anything an Olympic Games can do to a team, it can unite and provide inspiration in the heat of the battle.

August is going to be a tough month for the Greek women’s team but the spirit, flare and determination amongst this team will carry them far.