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  EURO 2004 Review


Pragmatic Greeks achieve the impossible
Pragmatism won over romanticism on Sunday when Greece pulled off the biggest shock in international soccer history by winning the European Championship, thanks to a 1-0 victory over Portugal.
Sunday, 04 July 2004

Not one pundit had predicted that Otto Rehhagel's team would be able to see the reflection of the Olympic flame in the Henri Delaunay trophy after this tournament ended.

But that is exactly what can happen following Sunday's final. Greece will host the Olympic Games in August as European soccer champions, an extraordinary achievement.

Not content with mugging Portugal in the opening game of Euro 2004, Greece did so a second time at the Luz stadium.

The first time they just bloodied their host's nose on the doorstep. On Sunday they walked away with the silverware and it was Rehhagel's pragmatic approach to the game and to the tournament as a whole that brought Greece their success.

No team in a World Cup or previous European Championships have done what Greece have done here.

They have beaten the host nation twice, knocked out the holders (France), beaten the favourites (Czech Republic) and won the tournament with a foreign coach.

To add to that, they had never previously won a match in a finals. Denmark won the European title in 1992 after being invited to take part at the last minute when Yugoslavia were thrown out, but they were an established soccer power.

Perhaps only West Germany's win in the 1954 World Cup final, when they beat hot favourites Hungary 3-2, compares. That German victory, which followed an 8-3 drubbing by Hungary in a group game, took place exactly 50 years ago today.

There might be doubts about Greece's ability to organise the Olympic Games but they certainly know how to organise a defence.

Rehhagel has moulded a side that also knows how to mix it in midfield and strike when the chances come.

Their 1-0 wins over France in the quarter-final, the Czech Republic in the semis and now Portugal were all through headed goals from crosses or corners on the right.

Angelos Haristeas scored two of them -- against France and Portugal -- and it is hard to believe that he has recently endured such an unhappy time at Werder Bremen.

The basis of their success rested on their five pillars of the Acropolis in defence.

Goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis and the four men in front of him - Yourkas Seitaridis, Michalis Kapsis, Traianos Dellas and Takis Fyssas - threw up an almost impregnable barrier.

Whether this result is a good one for football or not remains to be seen. Using a sweeper and man-to-man marking on opposing attackers is an old-fashioned tactic that is largely defensive and is not pretty to watch.

Portugal, in Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Deco, possessed all the flair players.

Relatively impotent in the first half, they created chances in the second period but failed to take any of them and when Greece went ahead after 57 minutes, there was an air of inevitability about the outcome.

Portugal will never have a better chance to win a major tournament after reaching their first final.

Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was attempting to become the first man to win the World Cup and European Championship with different countries after leading his native Brazil to victory in Yokohama two years ago, and he was udone at the end by an even more wily operator than himself.

Scolari's one mistake was to leave the ineffective Pauleta up front in attack for too long. The in-form Nuno Gomes would surely have done better if he had come on at halftime.

As a spectacle the final was not a classic -- there were too many wasted balls, poor passes and fouls for that. But as an upset success it is an achievement that will not be matched for decades.

As the the T-shirts of thousands of Greek fans in the stadium read: "This is the year of Greece."

There is really no argument with that.
- Reuters



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