With Euro 2004 just around the corner, most fans had begun putting forward their predictions on who the cup would go to. Many assumed it was yet again going to one of the power-houses of European football such as France, Italy, or Spain or maybe even to the tournament hosts, Portugal.
There was, however, a surprise contender for the cup. The fans just didn’t know it yet. Having made an appearance but not that much of an impact in the European Championship in 1980. Back then, they finished in fourth place behind the likes of the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, and West Germany. Then they went on to play in the 1994 World Cup, having gone unbeaten throughout their qualifiers.
The Greeks then crashed out of the tournament, losing every single game without netting a single goal. Their time to prove a point had come once again. People often say, ‘Third time’s the charm’. Would that be so for Greece?
Euro 2004 – The Group stages
Upon the team’s arrival in Portugal, the immediate task was to gear up to face the hosts in the tournament opener. They were not the Bookies’ favorites as many didn’t even see Greece making it past the group stages. The goal for the team was to win at least one game.
“Just one game. It was something none of the national teams had been able to do [at a major event]. Even the side who had gone to the World Cup in 1994 had not managed to beat anyone. That would have counted as a success: winning just once,” said midfielder Vassilios Tsiartas.
The opening game, held at the Estádio do Dragão stadium in Porto soon saw Greece start their tournament campaign with a bang! The visitors put themselves ahead with a goal from Giorgos Karagounis in the seventh minute. Holding on against the formidable Portuguese attack, they were up by another goal via Angelos Basinas, who converted a penalty in the second half of the match. Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in extra time didn’t do much but serve as a consolation goal for Luiz Scolari’s men.
The Greek side was bursting with happiness and confidence. But the job had merely begun. Facing Spain’s star line-up consisting of some of Europe’s greatest club players such as Raul, Carles Puyol, Xavi, and Fernando Torres among others. Despite this, the Spaniards were held at a 1-1 draw after a second-half equalizer from Angelos Charisteas.
Moving on to face Russia, who had faced defeats at the hands of both Portugal and Spain. To the dismay of the Greeks, the Russians opened up the scoring in the second minute with a goal from Dmitri Kirichenko and were soon up by another goal by Dmitri Bulykin. Zisis Vryzas’ goal was consolatory as his side went on to face their first defeat. A lack of points saw Russia make its exit from the tournament.
Back-to-back wins against Russia and then Spain had put Portugal on top of the group points table. Spain and Greece, however, were level with 4 points each. Ultimately, it was Greece who was the other team from the group who would be going through to the quarterfinals, on the basis of goals scored.
Euro 2004 – The quarter-final clash
Having made it to the knockout stage, Greece was about to go up against one of the favorites to win the cup. France was the leader of their respective group and was on a run to reach the quarterfinals. Their squad consisted of some of the finest names in the world of football such as Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, and Patrick Vieira.
It would definitely not be an easy task for them but they would have to do it. On matchday, the defending duo of Michalis Kapsis and Traianos Dellas was able to keep the French attack at bay. Early into the second half, a goal from Angelos Charisteas came to the rescue of the Greeks as they then proceeded to scrape through till the end and ultimately win the match.
The Euro 2004 semi-finals
Set to face yet another cup favorite at this crucial stage, the target was to somehow win against the Czech Republic. The Czechs were on an impressive unbeaten run and like Greece’s previous opponents had finished on the top of their group. This would indeed be a challenge for Greece. A chance at some part of glory lay within their reach, but first, they had to get through the in-form Czechs.
Despite the Czech Republic’s impressive attacking line, the Greek defense had ground throughout both the halves of the match. It was only during added time of the second half that defender Traianos Dellas slotted in the winning goal from a corner kick.
No one could believe it. Greece had made it to the final!
The Euro 2004 Finals – Greece Vs Portugal
The day had arrived. The Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, the home of club S.L Benfica, would be the stage for the final of Euro 2004. The final test for Greece was now. They would be facing the hosts, Portugal for the second time in the tournament. They had managed to do it before in the group stages. Would they be able to do it again, where it really mattered?
Despite Greece’s upstart journey to the final, many believed that the cup would be Portugal’s for the taking. After their initial loss during the first encounter, Portugal was looking primed for a win. As the match progressed, the Portuguese attack was relentless. But the Greeks held their ground till half-time.
Twelve minutes past the start of the second half, a corner kick in favor of Greece was headed into the back of the Portuguese net by Angelos Charisteas. The visitors had little time to celebrate as Portugal got back on the attack, looking to exploit any and all openings to even the odds. Try as they might, they weren’t able to do so, having even come close on many occasions.
As the final seconds ran out and the whistle was blown, the stadium fell silent to Greece’s celebrations. Somehow, they had done it. They had won the final! Europe lay stunned.
The Greeks, against all expectations, had won their first and only major tournament and it was a result of the masterclass of tactics by coach Otto Rehhagel and hard work by the team. They had defied all odds and had gone on to write one of the greatest underdog stories in the sport at the time.
Euro 2004 – The aftermath
While the team rejoiced, an outcry about the winners had begun. Many criticized the tactics used by Otto Rehhagel. Some called it anti-football among other things and the Greeks were criticized time after time.
This didn’t matter to their fans, however. To them, they were heroes. They had done what no previous Greek side had done and had gone on to do more. So what if they were unable to produce the razzle-dazzle that fans had learned to love from knock-out football?
They didn’t have fabulous attacking options and star-filled line-ups like their opponents. They simply did the best with what they had. They used good tactics, defended relentlessly on the field, fought for every win, and played together as a team. And that worked for them. It was enough to take on the greats of Europe and still come out on top.