Greeks rejoiced yesterday in their national soccer team's stunning win at the European Championship, a victory that many hope will revive flagging public interest in next month's Olympics.
With fewer than half the 5.3 million tickets for the Olympics sold, organizers hope the European title will help lure Greeks to stadiums -- even if it is only to watch their own athletes and teams.
"This is truly the best passport, the best invitation for the Olympic Games," Premier Costas Caramanlis said, referring to Greece's 1-0 win Sunday over Portugal.
Greeks have in recent months become exhausted with Athens's often delayed preparations for the Games, which have for months led to endless traffic jams in the capital.
Many Greeks also have been worried about the massive cost overruns generated by Olympic preparations, which have nearly tripled the cost for the Games to an estimated $7.29 billion.
But now, after millions celebrated Greece's soccer victory with impromptu street parties, public sentiment seems to be changing.
"This win has brought out the fan in the Greek and it will make them more interested in the classical sports of the Olympic Games," said Iason Melasinos, a 56-year-old Athenian artist who makes puppets used in the traditional shadow theater.
Athenians now have a "positive attitude, because before the win most people were negative about the Games," said Eleni Kalopita, 45, who works in a pastry shop.
Athens organizers are also hoping the victory will get people excited about the Olympics.
"The historic victory of the Greek soccer team is the best promotion of Greece internationally. It is equal to an invitation to the Olympic Games," Athens organizing committee spokesman Seraphim Kotrotsos said.
Yao Heads Chinese Squad
Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets and Menk Bateer of the San Antonio Spurs will lead the Chinese Olympic basketball team.
The Xinhua News Agency announced the lineup, citing Chinese Basketball Association officials in Dallas.
The 12-player squad also includes Liu Wei, Zhu Fangyu, Du Feng, Guo Shiqiang, Yi Jianlian, Li Nan, Chen Ke, Zhang Jingsong, Mo Ke and Zhang Yunsong.