BEFORE A BALL was kicked at Euro 2004, some bookies had Greece down as 250/1 outsiders.
Grouped with Spain, Russia and hosts Portugal, merely getting to the knockout stages looked a mountain too high for a nation with no previous honours at senior level.
Names such as Angelos Charisteas, Traianos Dellas, Nikos Dabizas and Stelios Giannakopoulos were known in European football but would hardly have struck fear into the hearts of their opponents.
In the opening fixture however, they were to upset the odds (and not for the last time) by recording a 2-1 win over the home nation before drawing 1-1 with the Spanish and pipping them to runners-up spot despite a defeat to Russia in their last group game.
That in itself was a massive achievement and with holders France next up in the quarter-finals, Otto Rehaggel’s side would surely be heading home.
But under the German tactician’s stewardship, who built his system, which he altered it to suit the opposition, around a solid defence and an emphasis on the importance of scoring from crosses and set-pieces, they took a 65th-minute lead from a Charisteas header and held on for a 1-0.
Rehaggel was Giovanni Trapattoni’s successor after the Italian’s first stint at Bayern Munich in ’95 and during his time in charge of Greece was quoted as saying:
We will play exciting football when we have Messi, Kaka, Iniesta and Xavi on the team” (sound familiar?)
In the semis, an extremely talented Czech Republic outfit were the next to fall by the wayside – Roma defender Dallas heading home from a corner after it had gone to extra-time.
With the Potuguese seeing off England and Holland, the final at Lisbon’s Estadio de Luz was effectively a repeat of the tournament’s opener. Luis Figo, a young Cristiano Ronaldo and Pauleta huffed and puffed but yet again the Greeks converted from a corner/header combination through Werder Bremen striker Chraristeas.
And so, in what is possibly the biggest upset in the history of international football, Greece were crowned European champions.
Ireland at 80/1 to win Euro 2012? Stranger things have happened.
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