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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Greece win provides fitting finale
By Phil McNulty
Our man in Portugal

Angelos Charisteas

Portugal's Euro 2004 was designed to be the perfect showcase for national hero Luis Figo - the leader of their 'golden generation' - to finally get his hands on silverware for his country.

Instead, as the last fireworks flew over Lisbon's magnificent Stadium of Light on Sunday, Figo was forced to bow to Greece's new gods Traianos Dellas and Angelos Charisteas.

Dellas and Charisteas, two men barely able to get a game for Roma and Werder Bremen, and yet the talismen for the values of brilliant coaching, organisation and honesty that made this tournament Greece's from first to last.

Greece have been patronised throughout Euro 2004 for their defensive style, and attempts to play down their achievement started only seconds after the final whistle that signalled an outbreak of mass ecstasy among coach Otto Rehhagel's entourage.

There was the claim that if they were playing in your back garden you would close the curtains, or that Rehhagel's well-drilled brand of defensive discipline was dragging football back into the dark ages.

Euro 2004 was not a classic, but it had a wonderful element of unpredictability
Having always been told to beware Greeks bearing gifts, the whole of Europe's footballing elite was undone by a team that gave away nothing.

And this is why, instead of attacking Rehhagel, he should be praised for his brilliant organisation and his players praised for their attitude.

As an exercise in working with the resources at your disposal and getting the best out of them, Rehhagel provided a masterclass.

Old values true enough - but instead of attacking them, it might be worth instilling them in some of the more mighty nations who fell by the wayside.

Greece's win was the final twist in a tournament in which the big guns failed to fire.

Euro 2004 was not a classic, but it showed that the wonderful element of unpredictability that makes football so compelling still actually exists.

Not a classic tournament, but certainly a huge success.

The Greeks started it by beating Portugal in the opening game - and finished it in similar fashion to provide one of the biggest shocks in the game's history.

The early downfalls of Spain, Italy and Germany set the tone, before Greece gave a warning that they must be taken seriously by beating holders France in the quarter-final.

It was a tournament that could also be regarded as a changing of football's old guard, with France's great team in flux - is this the end for Zinedine Zidane? - and new young stars emerging.

England's Wayne Rooney was the biggest, but he was given a run for his money by Liverpool's Milan Baros, the Golden Boot winner with five goals.

England's Wayne Rooney
Sven-Goran Eriksson's side, as ever, promised much but fell at what now almost appears to be their pre-ordained stage of the last eight.

Baros' Czech Republic, with a brave attacking style, were the best team on show until they became another Greek victim in the semi-final.

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was a giant figure at the tournament alongside Rehhagel, and for all his touchline grandstanding and harassment of officials, he was wonderfully dignified in defeat and it is to be hoped he is a presence for years to come.

And even in defeat, host country Portugal entered into the spirit of a tournament played out in glorious weather and in packed stadia before highly-appreciative audiences.

There were tears in Lisbon on Sunday, but Greece were still given a sporting winners' reception by the Portuguese, who have rolled out the welcome mat for Europe's football community.

There were tears from Greece too, but tears of joy from a team who could barely comprehend the scale of their achievement.

And for men like Dellas and Charisteas, who never merited the merest mention before Euro 2004 began, life will never be the same.

The show moves on to Germany in two years as Portugal prepares to take a rest after football fever - and who will be the next surprise package waiting to follow in Greece's footsteps?

If someone can copy Rehhagel's footballing template, it may just happen.

And for the hosts, there may be some - only some - consolation from the pain of defeat in the fact that Euro 2004 will be fondly remembered by those of us who spent a month in their country.





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