In 2004, Portugal was on the other side of this year’s final, playing the role of host nation and a tournament favorite. The Euro opened up with a match between the hosts and Greece. The Greeks faced 150-1 odds to win the Euro and had only made one appearance in a major tournament prior to 2004.
Nevertheless, they had to start somewhere. Earning the nickname “To piratiko” (the pirate ship), for stealing the show, the Greeks came out flying in the opening match to a 2-0 lead over a stunned Portugal. The Portuguese got one back deep into stoppage time thanks to a 19-year old teenager named Cristiano. However, the damage was done and “ To piratiko” moved on. Following a 1-1 tie with Spain, the Greeks found themselves 0-2 behind against Russia. Needing a goal to advance to the quarterfinals on goal differential, Zisis Vryzas got one back for the Greeks, converting 1v1 against the Russian keeper Malafeev.
Portugal recovered from their first match shortcomings to win the group, and thanks to aging veteran Vryzas, the Greeks beat out Spain for 2nd place. Go on you Greeks.
Through to the next round, the Greeks were drawn against France, the defending Euro 2000 champions. The Greeks faced the likes of Zidane, Henry, Trezeguet, Pires, and Barthez to name a few. The odds were not in the Greeks’ favor as this team was easily one of the tournament’s best. Thanks to stout defending, a moment of brilliance from the captain Theodoros Zagorakis, and a legendary header from Angelos Charisteas, the Greeks moved on to the semi-finals to face the Czech Republic.
At this stage in the tournament, the Czechs were the trophy favorites. Having beaten Germany, Netherlands, and Latvia in the group stages and thrashing Denmark 3-0 in the quarterfinals, the road to the final looked inevitable for the Czech nation.
The Czech squad featured a solid mix of young talent and veteran leaders. Juventus legend Pavel Nedved captained a squad that included a young Petr Cech, Tomas Rosiscky, Milan Baros (the eventual top scorer of the tournament), as well as the 6’9 behemouth striker Jan Koller. The Greeks faced the improbable once again. But you can never count us out. Taking the game deep into the first half of extra time, the Greeks were awarded a corner. The corner kick rested on the left foot of substitute Vassilios Tsiartas and he did not disappoint.
Tsiartas found the head of the 6’5 Center Back Traianos Dellas and well the rest is history. Dellas became and is the only player ever to have netted a “silver goal,” meaning that the game was over if a goal was scored in the first half of extra time. Despite all odds, Greece advanced to the final.
The Final: Estádio da Luz – 4 July 2004
Ironically, Hellas was set to face hosts Portugal once again. Surely players like Luis Figo, Deco, Nuno Gomes, Rui Costa, and a young Ronaldo would not let the Greeks beat them twice in front of their own country? Well, the Portuguese played valiantly and created their chances, but the pride of the Greek defense simply would not budge. Angelos Basinas was fated to take the corner kick that would assist Angelos Charisteas’ header in the 57th minute. After that, it wasn’t meant to be for Figo and company. A breakaway 1v1 between Cristiano Ronaldo and the Greek stalwart under the posts, Antonios Nikopolidis, gave the Greeks one last scare, but Ronaldo smashed it wide. Then the whistle blew and the Greeks collapsed, holding back tears of joy. A young Cristiano was crying. It was a sight to see.
Soon after the trophy procession began, the Greek captain and Euro 2004 player of the tournament, Theodoros Zagorakis, lifted the trophy. The impossible had been accomplished. The small nation of feta-producing Greeks won arguably the second biggest football tournament at the international stage. They defeated the likes of host nation Portugal (twice), defending champions France, and the favored Czech Republic. The Greeks did not possess “big name” players like Zinedine Zidane or Luis Figo. Not one Greek went on to play for Europe’s biggest teams.
How did the Greeks shock Europe?
The Greek squad featured a tight knit group of players, the majority of whom played in Greece between the top 3 clubs. The chemistry was evident in the squad thanks to a lot of veteran experience and years of playing together. The manager, “King Otto” Rehhagel, instilled in his players a core belief in the fundamentals, especially being an impenetrable force defensively.
On the other side of the ball, the Greeks needed a scorer and they found just that in the unbelievable heading ability of Angelos Charisteas. Of course, there was some degree of luck that went into this achievement, since the Greeks had no recognizable names on their roster. Not to mention, they faced 150-1 odds to win the Euro, and this does not even count qualification to the tournament, because if it did, the probability would have been much higher. Although the Greeks did not build on this success until later years, this was not a fluke. The Greeks created chances in all the games they played and prided themselves on their incredible backline.
Euro 2004 vs. Euro 2016
Although some similarities do exist between the ’04 Greeks and the ’16 Portuguese, it is pretty evident that these 2 teams are also very different. For starters, the Greeks possessed no “big name” players who competed in the top European leagues. The Greeks had only been in one major football tournament prior to 2004, while Portugal have enjoyed multiple top 4 appearances in tournaments since Euro 2004.
Finally, the road to the final for Greece was considerably more difficult than Portugal’s. If anything Greece’s Euro 2004 is closer to Iceland’s historic quarterfinal run this year. In a year full of footballing upsets, Greece’s ‘04 triumph still remains amongst the biggest upsets in sports history.
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