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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 03:41 GMT 04:41 UK
Portuguese find joy in defeat
By Harry Peart
BBC World Service Sports correspondent

The Greeks may be taking the trophy back home to add to their prestige ahead of the Athens Olympics but after a fascinating championship the Portuguese can go back to normal life with their heads held high.

Portuguese fan
Their team may have lost but the Portuguese are still smiling
After the final they flocked to the main square in Lisbon, as they had done after their four previous victories to celebrate.

They had lost the final but in beating their great rivals Spain for the first time in the group match, and then exceeding all expectations even by reaching the semi-final, so it was still worth a party.

Their joy was the culmination of national pride.

Investment worthwhile

Their team had not only inspired an outpouring of national fervour, it had underlined the fact that a small nation can organise a hugely successful football extravaganza, widely regarded as the third biggest sporting event behind the Olympics and the World Cup.

Two English fans greet a Croatian fan in Lisbon
Rival fans were quick to make friends
The huge investment in stadiums and infrastructure has all proved worthwhile and the Portuguese have proved marvellous hosts.

And there was no animosity as the large band of boisterous Greek fans celebrated their moment of unexpected glory.

Flags were intertwined in the main square in gestures of mutual passion for the game.

Other visiting fans have added colour and flair to the championship.

The English, around 40,000 of them, travelled in force - the biggest contingent of the visiting supporters.

Friendship

The Cross of St George flew everywhere, from the fountains to the hotel balconies.

And in spite of the fears of violence, in general there was a mood of friendship.

The Greek team celebrating after the match
No one expected Greece to win
Even after Portugal had knocked England out in the quarter finals, I saw one English fan move towards a Portuguese supporter who was taunting him and shake his hand, put his arm around him, and wished the hosts the best of luck in the semi-finals.

To underline the lack of rancour, the English flag is still aloft on the fountain at the main square.

Colourful fans

The Netherlands provided their particularly virulent shade of orange to liven up the proceedings.

Their fans always give the impression of going to a party rather than bolstering their team's performances on the pitch.

Their outlandish hats - some over a metre tall - and traditional clogs in fluorescent orange brought smiles from the Portuguese locals.

With their short-lived appearance, Italian and Spanish fans had few chances to show their real colours, while France the defending champions were curiously low-key.

There was an unlikely scenario at my hotel when an English fan was acting as mediator between two warring Frenchmen wearing the tricolour.

The German fans also had little to sing and cheer about. Not a single victory to celebrate for the World Cup runners up.

Rivalry

The Scandinavian presence was up to its usual standard with plenty of noise and hard drinking from the Swedish and Danish fans.

Greek fans
Greek fans are wild with joy
But when it came to the crucial last group game there was no question about the intense rivalry between the countries, and the accusations by some parts of the Italian media that the game was fixed drew wry smiles from both the Danes and the Swedes.

Ridiculous, was the general consensus.

It is difficult to miss the Croatian fans. They all seem to be two metres tall and built to withstand powerful tackles so it is not wise to make any jokes about their red and white chequerboard shirts.

Until defeat in the semi-finals, the Czech Republic had drawn praise from all quarters and had a vocal band of supporters.

Worldwide interest

As if to underline how this championship has stepped outside its continental borders I met two Japanese women who were ardent supporters of the Czechs, or at least Nedved and Poborsky.

They had become fans at the championship four years ago and had shyly brought presents for their two heroes.

Television has taken Euro 2004 to all parts of the world.

For the first time Chinese TV joined the major European broadcasters, and everywhere there were cameras and microphones from countries that had no connection with the tournament.

Euro 2004 has enhanced the notion that football is the world game, and the Greek victory has proved that winning is not the preserve of those countries with money or a long tradition.

South Korea reaching the World Cup semi-finals two years ago and now Greece winning the European championship - it all makes the game far more interesting.



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