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Amazing Greece

Not one for purists, but team's triumph fully deserved

Posted: Sunday July 4, 2004 7:37PM; Updated: Sunday July 4, 2004 7:37PM
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Hard to beat and even more difficult to watch, Greece's victory at Euro 2004 may not have pleased the soccer purists.

Nevertheless, coach Otto Rehhagel's men maximized their limited talent to create one of soccer's biggest ever upsets.

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The 1-0 victory over Portugal, secured on a Angelos Charisteas header, stands above Denmark's 1992 triumph and Czechoslovakia's 1976 win over West Germany.

Those teams were outsiders, but contained at least a smattering of international stars: the Laudrup brothers for Denmark and Antonin Panenka for Czechoslovakia. Greece's team, bereft of individual flair, molded seamlessly into a gritty, indestructible unit.

"I have no words to describe what I'm feeling right now," said captain Theodoros Zagorakis. "We just proved once more that the Greek soul has always been there, the greatest thing that God gave us."

Rehhagel described the victory in a wider context.

"It's amazing what football has managed to do in Greece," he said. "To unite the country, something politics wasn't able to do."

Starting Euro 2004 as an 100-1 outsider, not many gave Greece a prayer. But the early signs were encouraging, if not heeded as warnings by opponents to come.

The 2-1 opening group game win over Portugal gave Greece its first win in a major soccer tournament. It had returned home from the 1980 European Championships and the World Cup in 1994 without a win and only one goal scored.

A 1-1 draw with Spain followed, then, after a 2-1 slip-up to Russia, a 1-0 quarterfinal triumph over defending champion France. Werder Bremen's Charisteas again scored the winner.

Surely the fairytale would end in the semifinals against Czech Republic, the 10-goal tournament top scorers? Typically, the Greeks soaked up pressure, rarely foraged forward, but sent the Czechs home with an injury time goal from Traianos Dellas.

Dellas' goal was a carbon copy of Charisteas' strike in the final: a corner from the right, followed by a bullet header.

Greece's last three goals were from balls played into the penalty area, a reflection of a simple, direct approach.

Not pretty to watch, but very effective.

Defeated coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had only praise for Rehhagel's achievement.

"They have been playing like this since the beginning," Scolari said. "They have the right to do it and they are good at it. I congratulate them."

Greece's style invites others to attack, but ultimately leaves them frustrated.

"It is up to us to find a way through this defensive system," Scolari said. "It is up to us to find a way through this."

Not many teams could.

Greece kept three clean sheets from the quarterfinals onward, and veteran goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis went 358 minutes without being beaten.

The likes of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Milan Baros, Jan Koller, Luis Figo and Pauleta all tried, but despite having 168 international goals between them, could not find a solution.

The strength of Greece's team, along with tenacity, spirit and teamwork, is undoubtedly its rock-solid rearguard. In finishing top of its Euro 2004 qualifying group, the Greeks did not allow a goal in the last six games.

Rehhagel had lost the first two qualifying games and Rehhagel stood one game away from being sacked. How happy the Greek soccer federation must be now that they didn't show him the door.

"The Greek team wrote soccer history," Rehhagel said. "I hope we'll be able to get into Athens on Monday, there will be incredible scenes."

When Rehhagel took over nearly three years ago, the Greek team was a shambles, its players indifferent, and results sliding ever downward. He had to beg for better facilities and sometimes his team did not even have a pitch to train on.

A bigger problem was team indiscipline.

"When I arrived the players were talented, but did not obey the rules," Rehhagel said. "Once they understood they needed to, they could then express themselves."

Rehhagel's message has clearly been understood and his team has now shaken soccer's establishment like never before.

"I have no words, you have no idea what is going on in the dressing room," said Zagorakis. "All the joy. We'll dedicate this to all the Greeks around the world."

Greeks celebrate historic victory

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Millions of jubilant fans waving Greek flags and honking car horns poured into the streets Sunday to celebrate the national team's victory over Portugal in the final of soccer's European Championship.

The country was in ecstasy following Greece's maiden title in a major tournament.

"It is true, it is true, Greece is a European champion, who would believe this," said an announcer on ET1 television, which broadcast the game.

The Greek team defeated former champion France in the quarterfinals and favorite Czech Republic in the semis before beating Portugal 1-0 in Sunday's final.

"Even the most optimistic Greeks would not believe what happened today," said a TV commentator.

Fans started to gather in Athens' busy Omonia Square within minutes from the final whistle, waving Greek flags and singing the national anthem. Some cried with joy and embraced while some jumped into fountains. Others lay the national flag in the street and bowed in front of it.

"If this is a dream then don't wake me up," chanted the ecstatic crowd.

Even fire trucks and police cars joined the celebrations, parading along with the crowd through the capital. It was the largest street party since 1987, when Greece's national basketball team won the European championship.

The entire city was illuminated as hundreds of colorful fireworks formed a bright drape over the ancient Acropolis and other monuments. Canons under the city's Lycabetus hill fired celebratory shots.

"I have to say that I am very proud because these players gave a great victory to Greece," Prime Minister Coast Caramanlis told state-run TV from Lisbon where he attended the game.

Greeks poured into central squares in cities across the country, singing and dancing.

"I don't think that anyone will sleep in Greece tonight," said a TV commentator while the channel was displaying celebratory scenes from cities across the country.

The Greek flag, which until recently was visible only outside government buildings and national monuments, continued to be the most sought-after item in shops. Greeks spent over euro690 million ($849 million) on flags and national team jerseys, according to the daily Ethnos.

Charisteas goes from unknown to hero

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Angelos Charisteas started Euro 2004 unknown to most. He finished the tournament as one of its brightest stars having scored the goal which gave outsider Greece its first European Championship title.

Charisteas pounced in the 57th minute of a tense match, delivering the blow which knocked out host and favorite Portugal 1-0 at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

The Werder Bremen striker completed a remarkable treble, having won the Bundesliga title and German Cup last season. The 24-year-old had scored the quarterfinal winner against France -- also a header -- and notched in the group A game as Greece came from behind to tie 1-1 with Spain.

"We are European champions, something achieved after many years," Charisteas said. "We are the best team in Europe. This is a unique moment."

A tall, rangy striker with little pace but a delicate touch, he stood out against Portugal for other reasons than his powerful headed goal.

A tireless runner, he pressured the Portuguese defense throughout, never giving the likes of Ricardo Carvalho and Jorge Andrade a moment of rest.

With 11 goals in 32 internationals, Charisteas is not prolific, but German coach Otto Rehhagel brings the best out of his physical qualities and selflessness.

Often asked to drop back to right midfield against Portugal, Charisteas did his job to perfection: hassling opponents and regularly making tackles. Yet he still had found the energy to lend his weight to the attack when Greece foraged forward.

On the goal, he anticipated Angelis Basinas' corner with a well-timed leap and used his height to outjump Andrade and plant the ball beyond goalkeeper Ricardo.

"It's the greatest moment of my career. When I scored, I thought we could not lose the cup," he said.

He went close to doubling Greece's advantage moments later, neatly spinning past Carvalho and turning to goal only to see Ricardo dive to save the ball at his feet.

Prior to joining Werder Bremen, Charisteas was unwanted by PAOK Salonica, which farmed him out on loan to a smaller club for six months. Upon his return, Charisteas found himself off to Germany.

He contributed to Bremen's success last season, scoring four goals and adding four assists in 24 outings, many as substitute.

His performances at Euro 2004, where he top-scored for Greece with three goals, will doubtless have alerted many clubs to his potential.

Rehhagel's remarkable rise

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Otto Rehhagel once stood a game away from being sacked as Greece's coach. Now, he is the hero of a whole nation.

The German masterminded an improbable victory at Euro 2004, guiding the Greeks to their first ever European Championship title Sunday with a 1-0 win over host Portugal.

Angelos Charisteas scored the winner, a 57th-minute header, but the plaudits must surely go to Rehhagel.

"I think the score speaks for itself. It's amazing what football has managed to do in Greece," Rehhagel said after. "(Football has) managed to unite the country, something politics wasn't able to do."

When he took over nearly three years ago, the Greek team was a shambles, its players indifferent, and results sliding ever downward. He had to beg for better facilities and sometimes his team did not even have a pitch to train on.

"Mission Impossible" said the Greek Press.

Perhaps at the time, it was. Rehhagel's first game ended in a 5-0 loss to Finland.

Then, in the fall of 2002, Greece suffered two losses at the start of its Euro 2004 qualifying adventure. The Greek soccer federation gave Rehhagel a must win game against Armenia to save his job.

He won that 2-0 and the next five as Greece finished top of a qualifying group ahead of Spain and Ukraine. Greece did not concede a single goal in its final six games.

Perhaps fittingly, Charisteas finished top scorer in qualifying with three goals: the same total the striker managed at Euro 2004.

The Greeks' iron defense, discipline, selflessness and teamwork are all hallmarks of Rehhagel: a strict disciplinarian and a bone-hard defender himself during a 200-game playing career with Kaiserslautern.

At Euro 2004, Greece kept three clean sheets from the quarterfinals onward, and goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis went 358 minutes without being beaten.

"Our opponents were certainly technically somewhat better than us," Rehhagel said. "But they have to score their own goals ... later on they only operated with long balls and looked helpless."

A superb tactician and even better man-motivator, Rehhagel tasted success as a club coach.

During a 14-year coaching stint with Bremen, Rehhagel clinched two Bundesliga titles, two German cups and a Cup Winners Cup trophy in 1992. Six years later, he added another league title with Kaiserslautern having promoted the club the previous season. No other German club coach has matched this feat.

But this is without doubt his greatest triumph, guiding a team an undisputed outsider to the pinnacle of European soccer.

"The Greek team wrote soccer history," he said. "I hope we'll be able to get into Athens on Monday, there will be incredible scenes."

Rehhagel dodges Germany job question

LISBON (Reuters) -- Greece coach Otto Rehhagel refused to comment on speculation on Sunday that he could be offered the Germany job and break his contract with the newly crowned European champions.

Rehhagel, a German, renewed his contract with Greece until 2006 after winning automatic qualification for Euro 2004.

Germany, eager to field a strong team when they host the 2006 World Cup, are looking to replace Rudi Voeller who resigned following his team's first round exit from the tournament.

"Today, at this moment, is a time only to talk about what the boys did," he said minutes after Greece beat hosts Portugal 1-0 at the Luz stadium to win the European trophy.

"It would be fatal to waste a single word on anything else. Tomorrow we will return to Greece and that's all," he said.

Rehhagel, who has been hounded by the German press since the start of the tournament, has transformed the fates of rank outsiders Greece in just three years, guiding them to their first trophy.

He had been unemployed when hired by the Greek FA in 2001 after a successful spell with Kaiserslautern in the late 1990s.

Greek FA officials have said they fear Rehhagel could be lured back to Germany following his spectacular win with Greece.

Win again touches off party in Australia

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Thousands of Greek soccer fans in Australia's two largest cities screamed, danced in the streets and set of fireworks early Monday after Greece's 1-0 win Sunday in the Euro 2004 final.

The telecast of the match began at 4:30 a.m. Monday (1830 GMT Sunday), with several thousand fans attending a special screening at a downtown theater in Sydney and a crowd of 10,000 in Lonsdale Street in Melbourne, a city with the third-largest Greek population in the world and the largest outside of Greece.

In the predominately Greek area of Brighton-Le-Sands in Sydney's south -- where the Olympic torch passed through three weeks ago -- fans with painted faces, wrapped in flags and clutching blue and white balloons danced to Greek music and hugged one another after the win.

"There is a God," said Greek fan Con Goussis. "This is the most overwhelming moment of my life. It's the best thing that could ever have happened to Greece before the Olympics."

Corporate banker Dimitrios Alexakis said he had been dancing and cheering since about 3 a.m (1700 GMT).

"Until now, Greece has had an inferiority complex when it comes to soccer. We were the underdogs, but never again," he said.

In Melbourne, flares and fireworks were set off and fans danced in the middle of Lonsdale Street chanting "Hellas, Hellas," (Greece, Greece) after the win.

The mood had been quiet and tense before Greece broke through with a goal from Angelos Haristeas in the 57th minute. Fans in both cities held similar celebrations last week when Greece won its semifinal over the Czech Republic.

Cyprus erupts in delirium

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Thousands of jubilant Greek Cypriots packed the squares of all the main towns and villages Sunday, setting off fireworks and waving Greek flags to celebrate Greece's victory over Portugal in soccer's European championship.

Fireworks lit the sky and streets were ablaze with light from endless lines of slowly moving motor cars festooned with flags, their horns blaring and occupants cheering.

The game at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon was relayed on giant television screens set up in the public squares packed with thousands of fans who went wild when Greece scored its winning goal early in the second half.

In the capital, Nicosia, the celebrations were led by Mayor Nikos Zambellas and Greek Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos.

"We got it, we got it," said Zambellas, waving a replica cup and handing it over to Panagopoulos as the crow cheered.

"Something like this has never happened before, everyone is simply delirious following Greece's crowning as European champions," he said.

Similar scenes were repeated in the other main towns and the celebrations were expected to continue all night.

"Greece has made us all so proud and happy, will stay here celebrating till the sun comes up," said fan George Nicolaou.

Greece players' final ratings

LISBON (Reuters) -- Greek player ratings out of 10 for Sunday's Euro 2004 final against Portugal:

1-Antonis Nikopolidis: Did well to save a Miguel shot in the 14th minute, also saved a low Cristiano Ronaldo effort in the 60th and blocked a dangerous late cross but was not tested enough by the hosts. Rating 7.

2-Yourkas Seitaridis: Was kept busy marking Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo on the right and can be well satisfied with his work. Made some dangerous overlaps, including one run that earned Greece's only corner, from which they scored. 7.

19-Michalis Kapsis: Was almost always first to the ball ahead of Deco and Pauleta in a terrific performance. Did well to head out a dangerous low ball into the box in the 54th minute, just before the goal, but his poor clearance in the 65th could have led to an equaliser. 8.

5-Traianos Dellas: Extremely effective in keeping Portuguese strikers at bay and controlling the pace at the back, as he has been all tournament. 8.

14-Takis Fyssas: Struggled to keep up with quicker Ronaldo but stuck to his guns and made some important tackles. 6.

8-Stelios Giannakopoulos: It took him half an hour to get in the game but grew more confident the longer it went on. Replaced in the 76th minute. 5.

7-Theodoros Zagorakis: A real workhorse in midfield, was the driving force behind most of Greece's attacks and made sure that the Portuguese could never throw everyone forward. 7.

6-Angelos Basinas: Returned to his defensive duties where he worked hard and effectively keeping Portugal at long range. Booked at the end of the first half for a needless handball. Delivered the tempting corner for Haristeas to score in 57th minute. 7.

21-Costas Katsouranis: Operated as a defensive shield in front of the back four, man-making Deco for long periods and frustrating him effectively. 7.

15-Zisis Vryzas: Unable to make much impact on the Portuguese defence, where he was constantly outnumbered. did provide a couple of crosses but was taken off in the 81st minute. 5.

9-Angelos Haristeas: Had little joy in the first half, though a constant threat in the air. That power came to the fore for the goal as he outjumped a static home defence to ram home a Basinas corner. 8.

Substitutes.

3-Stelios Venetidis: Sent on in the 76th minute to add steel on left side and did what was expected of him. 6.

22-Dimitrios Papadopoulos: Added pace to the front line in the last 10 minutes, though spent most of his time fruitlessly chasing long clearances. 5.

Both the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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