Rehhagel picked to make Germany popular in Greece

Otto Rehhagel, coach of Greece's soccer team, waves during a training session on the opening day of the 2010 World Cup at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

ATHENS, Greece He pulled off one of soccer's greatest historic upsets. Now Otto Rehhagel has been handed a task equally challenging: to make Germany popular again in crisis-hit Greece.

Germany is widely seen here as the country pressing hardest for the toughest cuts in Greece. Germany is the lead creditor in Greece's financial bailout program, but its reputation has been devastated by successive austerity measures, which have caused a rapid increase in poverty and unemployment. Greece is receiving emergency loans from the eurozone as a whole, as well as the International Monetary Fund.

Rehhagel, a German, coached Greece to a stunning victory in the 2004 European Championships, building a team that went on to qualify for two other European tournaments and the 2010 World Cup. Germany hopes to use his national hero status in Greece as a diplomatic tool. Rehhagel, 74, will visit Greece this month as a goodwill ambassador, traveling with officials in a regional government cooperation program, the German Embassy said Friday.

A visit to Greece in October by German Chancellor Angela Merkel triggered mass protests in Athens.

Rehhagel is due in Greece on March 25, the country's Independence Day.

"The purpose of the visit is to make clear the deep bond between Greece and Germany ... He will visit Greece with the slogan `We encourage the Greeks, our friends!'" a statement from the German Embassy said. "There will be no political review of the current situation. The visit is aimed at encouraging the Greeks."

Rehhagel coached Greece for 107 matches between 2001 and 2010, rising from 61st to 12th place in the world rankings.

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