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THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY
Grant Wahl
July 12, 2004
In winning Euro 2004, underdog Greece turned the soccer world upside down and struck an Olympian blow for national pride
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July 12, 2004

The Gods Must Be Crazy

In winning Euro 2004, underdog Greece turned the soccer world upside down and struck an Olympian blow for national pride

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By Monday morning Portugal was staring at a $735 million hangover. The main reason for the pain was a man who likes to be called King Otto. While Portugal's Scolari may be the spitting image of Gene Hackman, it was Rehhagel who morphed into a European version of the coach from Hoosiers, convincing dubious players and fans that Greece could win soccer's second-most-important event. "He's like our father," explained midfielder Stylianos Giannakopoulos last week. "We love him."

A three-time winner of the German Bundesliga, Rehhagel had no time for the internecine rivalries among players from Greece's top clubs—AEK Athens, Olympiakos and Panthanaikos—when he took over in 2001. After star midfielder Grigorios Georgatos instigated a locker room fight following Rehhagel's debut, a 5-1 loss to Finland, the coach kicked him off the team, talent be damned. "Mr. Rehhagel has a different mentality, and he brought that to us," said Fyssas. "We understood that the first thing we have to think about is Greece, to play for our country, not just our clubs."

The Greeks' reborn spirit was palpable in their style: hella organized, hella unified, hella smart. In Rehhagel's second game, a World Cup qualifier three years ago, Greece went toe-to-toe with England in Manchester, leading 2-1 until a last-second free-kick goal by David Beckham. "It was the first time we had seen a Greek team that played well together," says Yotis Panagiotas, a writer for the Athens weekly To Vima. "We all said, 'What's going on here?' " After losing their first two European Championship qualifiers, the Greeks went unbeaten in 15 straight games, including a road win in Spain. And yet they were prohibitive long shots on the eve of Euro 2004.

Foolish oddsmakers. Even if King Otto were to take Germany's coaching job, he's unlikely to top what he accomplished in Lisbon. The names Zagorakis, Charisteas and Seitaridis now assume their place in the Greek sporting mythology, an achievement duly noted in bold white letters on the side of their bus: ANCIENT GREECE HAD 12 GODS. MODERN GREECE HAS 11.

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