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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 June, 2004, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK
Portugal fail test of nerve
By Paul Fletcher
Our man in Portugal

Stylianos Giannakopoulos celebrates with the Greece fans
Euro 2004 started in the same way as the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan - with a huge shock.

Just as Senegal defeated champions France two years ago, so Greece stunned highly-fancied host nation Portugal in the magnificent Estadio do Dragao in Porto.

Greece had never won a game in a major tournament before and went into the match without key players such as Dimitrios Papadopoulos and Nikos Dabizas.

But with swift counter-attacking and obdurate, organised defending they deserved their famous victory against a team who fluffed their lines horrendously on the opening night.

The day had started so well with the largely home crowd creating a happy, carnival atmosphere as the pre-match ceremony took place.

The ceremony itself was the usual obtuse display of imagery through colour and movement, though thankfully far shorter than many of its predecessors.

The participants entered the arena at 1640 BST and were gone 15 minutes later having raced through centuries of Portuguese exploration and achievement.

The crowd was populated by whole generations of families determined to rejoice in Portugal's big day - and all went swimmingly until the match started.

The weight of expectation seemed to produce a state of inertia in the Portuguese players, who looked extremely nervous, especially at the back.

No one more so than Paulo Ferreira, who did everything bar pass to his own players and gave the ball away for Inter Milan striker Georgios Karagounis to silence the crowd with his seventh-minute strike that nestled in the bottom corner.

Portugal midfielder Luis Figo
Luis Figo laboured largely without effect

Portugal struggled to weave their way through the well-marshalled Greek defence and had no success at all when they resorted to hunting out Pauleta with optimistic crosses.

Luis Figo, once so majestic gliding down the flank, laboured largely without effect.

Rui Costa and Sabrosa Simao did not make the start of the second half.

Portugal coach 'Big Phil' Scolari cut a tortured figure as he spent most of the match prowling his technical area, kicking every ball and expressing his team's frustration through dramatic arm waving.

Scolari, who guided Brazil to victory at the 2002 World Cup, introduced local hero Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo for the start of the second half.

Some enterprising touches from both players hinted at a revival and the crowd quickly responded.

A penalty from the excellent Angelis Basinas after 51 minutes put paid to all that.

Portugal pressed hard as full-time beckoned but the silence from the stands told its own story.

And by the time Portugal pulled a goal back in injury time a substantial part of the crowd had already left.

At least Ronaldo's late strike ensured Portugal would not emulate France's failure to score two years ago.

However, the Portuguese team will have to take a long look at itself - and do so quickly, for on Wednesday they face a must-win game against Russia or the prospect of an early exit.

The shocks at the World Cup were both exciting and refreshing, but when the tournament reached the business end, the competition was bereft of quality.

It left the tournament without a defining match between two world-class teams slugging it out to keep alive their dreams of glory.

Portugal must learn to use home advantage as a strength or Euro 2004 could soon have its first high-profile exit.





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