By Graham Wood
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece coach Fernando Santos said on Friday it was with a "heavy heart" that he had made his decision to step down after the World Cup finals later this year.
"It was a very difficult decision emotionally," Santos, who has been in the job since taking over from Otto Rehhagel in 2010, told reporters a day after the Greek FA announced the Portuguese would not be renewing his contract.
"Professionally I had made the decision some time ago but it was difficult for my heart to accept.
"This is because during my time in charge I have created strong bonds with many people, especially the president and the players whom I like very much and have close relationships with."
Greece will face Colombia, Ivory Coast and Japan in Group C in the finals and they begin their countdown to the World Cup with a friendly against fellow qualifiers South Korea next week.
Santos built on Rehhagel's strong foundations, blooding many young players and has so far recorded 24 wins, 13 draws and only four defeats while in charge.
The former AEK Athens, Panathinaikos and PAOK Salonika coach guided Greece to Euro 2012 with an unbeaten run of 16 matches before their eventual quarter-final exit.
Santos said that the early announcement of his decision before the World Cup will not affect his team's performance in Brazil.
"I think that it can only have a positive impact on my players as I know them very well," Santos said.
"They know that we will not continue together after the World Cup and they will try to give their best to end my tenure on a positive note.
"I have a target which is for the team to make it past the group stage and I will do everything possible to achieve this goal."
Santos opted to leave out usual first and second choice goalkeepers Orestis Karnezis and Michalis Sifakis out of his 23-man squad for the match against South Korea in Athens on Tuesday in order to give an opportunity to PAOK Salonica's Panagiotis Glykos and Apollon Smyrni's Alexandros Tzorvas.
There were also recalls for Genoa winger Giannis Fetfatzidis and veteran Atromitos striker Dimitris Papadopoulos, while Olympiakos Piraeus defender Dimitris Siovas and Konyaspor striker Fanis Gekas miss out due to injuries.
(editing by Justin palmer)