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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 02:07 GMT 03:07 UK
Greeks party with football joy
By Richard Galpin
BBC correspondent in Athens

Greek fan in helmet
Victory came as a delirious surprise
A night of wild celebrations is under way in Greece after their team's victory over Portugal in the final of the Euro 2004 football tournament.

At the beginning of this tournament no-one in their wildest dreams here had ever imagined their team would hold the cup aloft at the end of the final match.

It was a major step forward for the national team to qualify for the tournament and go to Portugal.

Now, not only has Greece won the final but on the way it has beaten some of the best teams in Europe, including the former champions, France, and the Czech Republic.

It is a total transformation for a team which had been regarded as something of a joke even by its own fans.

No surprise then that the people of Athens and all the other major towns and cities have poured onto the streets in celebration.

The centre of the capital is awash with people draped in the blue and white national flag, screaming, shouting and singing.

Fireworks are exploding everywhere. This is the biggest and noisiest party the country has seen for decades.

Getting seriously

Before this tournament Greece had not won a single match in a major football competition.

Otto Rehhagel
Much of the credit goes to German coach Otto Rehhagel
They had qualified for the European Championships back in 1980, and the 1994 World Cup in the United States, and in the US they were thrashed in every single match.

So Sunday night's victory marks a total transformation of a team which even sports journalists in Athens had viewed as something of a joke.

No one took it seriously. Even the clubs didn't even want their players going to take part in international matches.

It has been a massive turnaround - and the excitement was building since the quarter-final victory against France, and the semi-final against the Czech Republic.

Celebrations exploded then, and that was only the quarters and semis. Now everyone is out on the streets, and they still can't quite believe it.

German discipline

A former national team coach has described it as the greatest victory in Greek sporting history.

Obviously the players have been brilliant, but a lot of credit goes to the German coach, Otto Rehhagel, who has been with the team for the past three years.

He is the key to this success - after transforming a team that didn't have a lot of discipline, and didn't really play as a team at all.

From being 11 individuals on the pitch, he has pulled them together, and critically improved the defence.

Even when the team reached the quarter-final, he was being described as "King Otto", so who knows what reception he will get when the team returns on Monday evening?

Olympic spurt

With the Athens Olympics only a month away, this is a real boost for Greece.

Greek fans
Now Greece can look forward to the Olympics with confidence
They've had a very difficult time over the past few years, with delays to building the venues and the huge worries about security in the current international climate.

It has all been very negative.

Now for Greece to win Euro 2004 and arrive on the international sporting map in such a dramatic fashion makes people here believe that things will turn around.

They hope the final approach to the Olympics will be a much more positive affair.

Of course all those issues still remain, particularly completing the venues, but certainly the officials and organisers remain optimistic that it will all be done.

Now people believe that the Olympics can be a Greek success - just like Euro 2004.




SEE ALSO:
Greece win Euro 2004
04 Jul 04 |  Euro 2004
Greeks hail 'sensation'
04 Jul 04 |  Greece
What now for Greek stars?
04 Jul 04 |  Greece


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