7:00am Friday 4th April 2014
By Paul Fraser
DIMI KONSTANTOPOULOS’ remarkable turnaround could end in a World Cup call this summer after it emerged Greece are checking on the Middlesbrough goalkeeper’s performances at the Riverside Stadium.
Three years after his one and only appearance for his country in a Euro 2012 qualifier win over Malta, Konstantopoulos is on the Greek radar again after impressing in a Boro shirt during the last month.
Sources in Athens have suggested Greece manager Fernando Santos is keeping his options open. Only Panathinaikos' Stefanos Kapino is playing well, with PAOK’s Panagiotis Glykos making a series of mistakes and both Granada's Orestis Karnezis and Atromitos' Michalis Sifakis only warming the bench.
Konstantopoulos has been a safe pair of hands since replacing Spaniard Tomas Mejias for the home date with Ipswich on March 8. The 35-year-old has made a string of fine saves, even if he was left embarrassed when he conceded a freak goal in the defeat to Queens Park Rangers a fortnight ago.
Boro boss Aitor Karanka thinks it would be fantastic for the Teesside club if Konstantopoulos can keep performing in the final seven matches of the season and force his way to the finals in Brazil.
“It’s good that he has been noticed by Greece,” said Karanka. “That’s the good thing about football. In one season, you can be the fourth keeper and by the last game you can be at the World Cup. You can be forgotten and then you can be the main man.
“In football it can also be the opposite. You could be Rhys Williams ... you could be looking ahead to the World Cup then suffer one injury and face a fight to go. That’s what a footballer has to think about every day.
“For me if any of my players go to the World Cup then that means they are doing a very good job for me and I will be happy. It will be a very good thing for the club, for me and for the player.
“He is an experienced player and when you are young you can make a lot of mistakes. Dimi has a lot of experience. He had his chance and took it 100 per cent. That is good for me and him.”
Konstantopoulos was without a club when he first started to train with Middlesbrough last summer after leaving AEK Athens and was offered a short term deal by former manager Tony Mowbray.
When Karanka took over in October, he was quick to bring in Shay Given from Aston Villa. Following the end of the Irishman’s loan, however, he had to assess the merits of Konstantopoulos, Mejias and Jason Steele.
Steele was injured initially, so the other two goalkeepers had a greater length of time to impress on the training ground. Despite the return to fitness of Mejias, on loan from Real Madrid, this weekend, Konstantopoulos will retain his place between the posts against Derby County.
Karanka, who was quick to stand by the former Hartlepool shot stopper following the bizarre goal he conceded against QPR, has also talked to Everton’s goalkeeper coach Inaki Bergara, who worked with the keeper at Swansea. The Middlesbrough boss insists Konstantopoulos is going the right way about extending his time back on Teesside.
“He is a very good example for me,” said Karanka. “He was the third or fourth choice when I first arrived here. Now he is the first one. He is the best example for me and for his team-mates to show what is required under me.
“They can feel that the player who impresses in training sessions is the player who deserves to play on a Saturday. I know he is at the end of his current contract and we need to speak between us about the future at some stage.”
While he hinted Konstantopoulos could have a longer term future at the Riverside, Karanka was keen to stress he will not be making major contract or transfer decisions until the end of the season.
There are a number of players whose contracts are either expiring or will be entering the final year of existing deals, but Karanka wants to focus on the final month of the campaign before taking care of other issues.
“I am only thinking about the next game,” said the former Real Madrid No 2. “We need to play 100 per cent. If I spend one minute thinking about the next season then that means I am not working on my team and on Saturday’s game. That is the most important thing. We have time later to worry about next season.
“It is important to finish this season before we think about other things. In one month we will be finished and when we have finished I will have perfect knowledge of the players, players who I have here, and the players who are on loan.
“I will have a better knowledge of the players in the Championship then, so for this I need to wait until the last day. Then we will try to get the best players to suit us for next season.
“At this moment I don’t think anything will happen until then because all I am focused on is the games. I will have meetings with the club, but I prefer to think about the games until the last game has been played.”
© Copyright 2001-2014 Newsquest Media Group