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Greece's rise and fall

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Archive: Portugal 0-1 Greece - Euro 2004

By Andrew McKenzie

The year 2004 was always expected to be a big one for Greek sport.

However, nobody expected their national football team to cause such a stir as to overshadow the return of the Olympics to its spiritual home in Athens.

BBC Sport looks back at Greece's rise to winners of Euro 2004, their subsequent fall from grace and what this year holds for the current European champions.

THE GLORY OF GREECE

"The whole is more than the sum of its parts"
Aristotle (384-322 BC), Greek philosopher

Greece is regarded as the birthplace of democracy - a country that has helped shape the development of the world with its impact on philosophy and politics, literature and theatre, mathematics and physics.

But it would take the combined minds of Aristotle and Archimedes, Plato and Pythagoras to work out how they went from no-hopers to all-conquering heroes at Euro 2004.

In sporting terms, Greece was the origin of the Olympics Games. But in international football the country was barely even a bit-part player before 2004.

That journey can perhaps be traced back to 2001, when the German Otto Rehhagel was appointed as coach.

He took over a ragbag bunch, a team of individuals who were 61st in the Fifa world rankings for good reason. His first game in charge was an embarrassing 5-1 defeat by Finland.

WHAT THEY SAID
"This is the biggest win of any Greek team."
Coach Otto Rehhagel, after the opening win over Portugal
"We have made Greece not just the talk of Europe but also of the world."
Captain Theo Zagorakis, after qualifying for the knockout stages
"This is the greatest moment in Greek football."
Striker Angelos Charisteas, after beating France
"The fairytale continues, it's unbelievable what they did. It's a true miracle."
Rehhagel, after defeating the Czechs
"We will never forget this, our country will remember this moment forever."
Defender Nikos Dabizas, after winning the final

Domestically, Greek football was beset by financial problems, hooliganism and a national match-fixing scandal involving the country's referees.

But a month after that loss to Finland there were signs of what was to come as Greece were a desperation David Beckham free-kick away from victory over England at Old Trafford.

The Greeks failed to make the 2002 World Cup but qualified for Euro 2004 above Spain after six wins in a row.

But when the shortlist of likely winners in Portugal was drawn up, Greece were at the back of the queue.

"It was only the third time Greece had made a major tournament so to qualify for the finals was success in itself," said Greek journalist Panos Polyzoidis.

"There was a feel-good factor but nobody would dream of them winning it."

Odds of over 100-1 were being offered on a team that were 35th in the world and had never won a game in a major tournament before.

That was to change in the opening match of the tournament whey they shocked the hosts Portugal with a 2-1 victory.

It was the start of 23 days when the Greeks would stun the footballing world.

They qualified for the quarter-finals at the expense of Spain, then ranked third in the world, knocked out the holders France and the tournament's form side Czech Republic to reach the final.

In a repeat of the opening game of the tournament, Greece beat Portugal to be crowned European champions.

It was not Raul, Zinedine Zidane, Pavel Nedved or Cristiano Ronaldo lifting the trophy but Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis.

PARTY TIME

"The greater the difficulty, the more the glory in surmounting it"
Epicurus (341- 270 BC), Greek philosopher

A banner hanging in Athens city centre read: "If this is a dream, then I never want to wake up."

Captain Theo Zagorakis lifts the trophy
Skipper Zagorakis was named player of the tournament
Even four years on it still seems somewhat surreal to think of Greece as the European champions.

But anyone who was in Athens at that time can vouch for the reality.

Journalist Barney Spender went out to the city in March 2004 to cover the Olympics and got more than he bargained for. He has never left.

"Athens is a very noisy place," said Spender, who covers the national team for Reuters and sportingreece.com. "There are cars everywhere and people lean on their horns all the time but during games the city was silent, no cars were on the roads as everyone was watching the games.

"When the goals went in there was this amazing echo of roars around the city, which was extraordinary.

"Within 15 seconds of the final whistle you could hear the car doors banging closed and the horns beeping again.

"Every time they played the parties got bigger and longer and louder. After the final they reckon two million people crammed the city of Athens and drove round in their cars until the early hours of the next day. Some just went straight to work from there."

The celebrations continued when the Greek team returned to a hero's welcome.

President Costis Stefanopoulos and the country's political leaders led a ceremony in the old Olympic stadium that was broadcast live on almost every television channel.

The streets were lined from the airport to welcome home the team, while fans sang "God is German" to honour their coach.

Rehhagel, the first foreign coach and the oldest to win a major tournament, was offered Greek citizenship.

THE HANGOVER

"Observe your enemies, for they first find out your faults"
Antisthenes (450-360 BC), Greek philosopher

A week after their historic victory in Portugal, Rehhagel was offered the chance to coach Germany but turned them down to stay with Greece. It seemed that he could do no wrong.

However the feel-good factor was to only last until September when they lost to Albania in their opening qualification game for the 2006 World Cup.

The players were still at odds with Greek authorities over a bonus row from their victory and Albania took full advantage of any lack of concentration.

Greece were to finish fourth in their group and fail to make it to the finals tournament in Germany. Otto's empire had crumbled.

Polyzoidis puts their failure down to "psychological fatigue and some silly losses".

FORTUNE AND FAME?
BBC Sport

For the players the expected big-money moves to Real Madrid or Barcelona never materialised.

Georgios Setaridis was the biggest winner, swapping Panathinaikos for Champions League winners Porto in a deal already agreed before Euro 2004. But otherwise there was little interest from Europe's powerhouses.

The national side were not the only ones to fail to take advantage of their success.

"There was a hope that this could possibly boost the Greek league. But the disappointing thing was they failed to capitalise on that victory," added Polyzoidis.

"Problems with corruption and hooliganism are endemic and there is a general lack of trust in the authorities in this country. Even this year the league title was decided for the first time in history not on the pitch but in the courts.

"Greece's win hasn't changed anything."

Spender revealed: "Greek football still has problems with violence and crowd trouble - they are kind of crazy and people have been killed. Big games are played with home fans only."

THE DEFENCE OF THEIR CROWN

"I want Greece to be up there competing for the title, just as we did four years ago,"
'King' Otto Rehhagel (1938- ) Greece coach

No team has successfully defended their title at the European Championship. You will struggle to find anyone expecting that to change this summer.

Of all the teams at Euro 2008, Greece had the best record in qualifying - winning 10 out of 12 games - and they have climbed up to eighth in Fifa's world rankings despite missing out on the World Cup.

Seven of their winning team in Portugal will be in Switzerland and Austria for Euro 2008, while Rehhagel remains at the helm.

But not even patriotic Greeks will expect their team to be around when the closing stages of the tournament is being played.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport
"I think what happened in Portugal is the biggest upset in world footballing history," said Polyzoidis. "More than Germany beating Hungary in 1954 and the Danish in 1992. So by definition it is extremely unlikely it will happen again."

Rehhagel's side are no longer reliant on the defensive style that stifled and frustrated their opponents in 2004 - winning all three knockout games 1-0.

In qualifying for Euro 2008 they scored 25 goals in 12 qualifying games and the side has added the fresh legs of Bayer Leverkusen's Fanis Gekas, the top scorer in Germany's Bundesliga a season ago, and attacking midfielder Ioannis Amanatidis.

"Four years ago it was a defensive team that would score one goal and then protect it," added Spender. "They have more creativity and imagination now and they have more confidence and experience."

Polyzoidis said: "Rehhagel has a team that looks like a well-oiled machine again, despite them lacking the talent of other national sides.

"They have scored several goals during the qualification rounds but that's different, they played Malta. In the finals they will again employ clever, pragmatic tactics.

"It would be silly to say they will reach the final again, but you never know."

The is a certain feeling of deja vu after Greece's 2-1 win over Portugal earlier this year and again being drawn in a group with Spain and Russia, while France may await in the quarter-finals.

Could there really be a sequel to mission impossible?




see also
Archive: Euro 2004 review
27 May 08 |  Euro 2008
Greece win Euro 2004
04 Jul 04 |  Euro 2004
Portugal v Greece photos
04 Jul 04 |  Photo Galleries
Zagorakis named top player
05 Jul 04 |  Greece
Greek joy, Portuguese woe
05 Jul 04 |  Europe
Greece welcomes back squad
05 Jul 04 |  Sport Homepage
In pictures: Joy in Athens
06 Jul 04 |  In Pictures
Greece team guide
15 May 08 |  Greece
Pick your Greece XI
22 May 08 |  Greece


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