A Tribute To The Journey Of The Pirate Ship

A Tribute To The Journey Of The Pirate Ship
 

It’s 13 years since one of the greatest shocks in football history when Greece upset all the odds to win EURO 2004. It remains one of sport’s most unlikeliest underdog triumphs, AGONAsport takes you back on a game-by-game journey in a special tribute to an Ethniki side that brought all Greeks into the street no matter what corner of the world they lived in. We hope this trip down memory lane brings back wonderful memories from a true sporting miracle.

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group a: matchday 1

12-Jun-04 Portugal 1 - 2 Greece
Ronaldo 90'+3'

Karagounis 7'
Basinas 51' (P)

The opening day of EURO 2004 saw Greece have the honor of kicking off the tournament against hosts Portugal. This was a Portugal side clearly installed as one of the pre-tournament favorites with a good blend of youth and experience. Cristiano Ronaldo was an 18-year-old star in the making while the likes of Luis Figo and Rui Costa may have been at the tail-end of their careers, but they were still strong, veteran leaders with enough class to change any match.
 
Not much was expected of the Ethniki heading into the tournament with 66-1 odds being the best they were given, with some bookmakers putting them much higher. After the debacle of Greece’s last tournament appearance, the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the hope of most Greek supporters involved modest achievements, a good performance and even just a goal to celebrate. Otto Rehhagel’s side of course were preparing to offer much more than that.
 
As the match began, it was Portugal expected to exploit the opening day jitters of the Greeks, however from kick-off it was apparent that this day might not follow the script. After the Ethniki missed a big chance in the first minute, Greece did the unthinkable in the 7th minute; they took the lead.
 
A mistake by Paulo Ferreira saw Giorgos Karagounis pick up the ball, dribble toward goal and unleash a shot from distance that found the bottom left corner of the goal. It was a magical moment to savour and the perfect start for Greece. Portugal took a while to get back into the game and Greece had chances to go up 2-0 in the first half. Luis Felipe Scolari made halftime changes, bringing on Deco and Ronaldo.
 
However, that did not change matters and in the 52nd minute Greece won a penalty as Giourkas Seitaridis burst into the Portuguese box only for Ronaldo to foul him with a clumsy challenge. Angelos Basinas stepped up and coolly converted the spot-kick. 2-0 to Greece. The hosts were stunned, but probably not as much as Greece’s own fans.
 
The expected Portuguese fightback came, but Greece did not wilt or waver. The commitment in defending as an organized unit and battling for every single ball was clear to see. Ronaldo’s late header made it 2-1, but it was at the death and the final whistle was sounded soon after. Greece had won and began EURO 2004 by shocking Portugal and the world with their victory. Little did we know how much more there was to come.
 

 

group a: matchday 2

16-Jun-04 Greece 1 - 1 Spain
Charisteas 66' Morientes 28'

With great confidence after the Portugal victory, Greece were now up against Spain. This time, the quick start was for the opponents, and Spain gave Greece all sorts of problems in the opening half-hour. And Spain took the lead in that period when on 27 minutes Fernando Morientes finished past Antonis Nikopolidis to make it 1-0 after a nifty back-heel from Raul. 
 
Greece recovered though and finished the half the better side as they grew into the game. Theo Zagorakis gave the opposition a warning just after the break when he fizzed a shot from over 20 yards out just wide. Spain were finding it harder to carve out openings, but they did have a Raul header that should have made it 2-0.
 
That was a chance the Spanish side would be left to rue as on 65 minutes, Greece drew level. Substitute Vasilis Tsiartas delivered an exquisite long pass into the path of Angelos Charisteas’ run and the Greek striker brought the ball down well and slotted home past Iker Casillas. 
 
Spain pressed hard toward the end as Nikopolidis was forced into a point-blank stop and Michalis Kapsis made a vital block in the closing stages. The resilient Greeks held on though, claiming an important point as their campaign kept its growing momentum.
 


group a: matchday 3

20-Jun-04 Russia 2 - 1 Greece
Kirichenko 2'
Bulykin 17'
Vryzas 43'

The Group Stage finale against Russia was supposed to be the continuation of an unlikely fairytale. The already eliminated Russians were only playing for pride while Greece needed only a point to ensure passage to the quarter-finals. 
 
After 18 minutes however it looked as though the clock struck midnight on Cinderella. Russia were 2-0 up as they took full advantage of Greece’s poor start. Dmitry Kirichenko scored the earliest ever goal at a European Championships as he struck after only 68 seconds. Russia doubled their lead in the 18th minute as Dmitry Bulykin’s header sailed past Nikopolidis.
 
The dream was turning into a nightmare pretty fast. Greece started to create a little, but they looked vulnerable on the counter, and Russia had chances to make it 3-0. 
 
Just before halftime, Greece’s battling qualities gave them a lifeline. Zisis Vryzas produced a lovely chip over Vyacheslav Malafeev to pull his side back to 2-1. The second half saw Greece return to their stronger defensive selves as the encounter became a tighter affair. Nikopolidis saved a stinging, long effort as Greece responded with a wonderful Tsiartas free-kick that saw Malafeev produce a superb stop. 
 
Then in the 87th minute, Greece just avoided going down 3-1 as Kirichenko missed a cross at the far post. It was inches between the Russian player and goal. That goal would have ultimately eliminated Greece, however the ball and fate had other ideas. Greece lost 2-1, but based on more goals scored (goal differential was a tie), had pipped Spain to second in the group and were through to the quarter-finals.
 


FINAL GROUP a STANDINGS

Rank Team GP W D L GF GA GD Points
1 Portugal 3 2 0 1 4 2 2 6
2 Greece 3 1 1 1 4 4 0 4
3 Spain 3 1 1 1 2 2 0 4
4 Russia 3 1 0 2 2 4 -2 3

QUARTER-FINALS

24-Jun-04 France 0 - 1 Greece
Charisteas 65'

It was difficult to describe the euphoria taking ahold of all Greeks due to the exploits of the team. Heading into the France game, Greece’s first-ever knockout match in a major tournament, most observers praised the team for their run so far, but virtually no one gave Rehhagel and his men a fighting chance against France.
 
With names such as Zidane, Henry, Trezeguet, Thuram, Gallas, Pires, Lizarazu, and Barthez, France were one of the top teams in world football even if their golden era was coming to a close. After beginning the Spain and Russia matches on the backfoot, the Ethniki knew they could not afford to do that against the reigning European champions.
 
All of the hallmarks that this Greece side would eventually be remembered for were on full display against France in Lisbon. The energy and willingness to give everything from the opening whistle was so apparent and surely made France realize from the first minute that this was going to be a tough night. In fact, it was Greece who were the better side in the first 45 minutes. The Ethniki fashioned the best chances in the opening period as Demis Nikolaidis, Kostas Katsouranis, and Takis Fyssas all had fine opportunities. Certainly, France had their moments, but Greece were winning the midfield battle and at the back Dellas and Kapsis were playing like giants.
 
Just after halftime, it was all France for a time being as Jacques Santini’s side were putting Greece under real pressure. However, a breakthrough would not come and as time wore on it was visible that David was simply not afraid of Goliath. 
 
In the 65th minute, France and the entirety of world football was stunned as Greece took the lead. Zagorakis’ magical run down the right saw him receive a Basinas ball, flick it over and past the onrushing Lizarazu, compose himself and expertly pick out Charisteas in the box. The then Werder Bremen striker gave Barthez no chance with his powerful header, 1-0 to Greece.
 
Besides a late header by Henry, France were kept at bay in the closing stages and Greece had achieved an amazing victory that sparked widespread celebrations at home and across the diaspora. 
 


semi-FINALS

01-Jul-04 Greece 1 - 0 Czech Republic
Dellas 105'+1' (AET)

By the time Greece had reached the semi-finals, they had long since succeeded in giving a positive representation of themselves in Portugal and doing things that no other national team in the country’s history had ever done. Most pundits praised the team for the massive shock win over France. It was again widely believed though that the run would end in the final four of the competition. Greece had defeated the hosts and perhaps the biggest name of the tournament in France, but against the Czech Republic they would be running into EURO 2004’s best team. The Czechs looked formidable coming into the semis. Their fluid style epitomized by playmaker extraordinaire Pavel Nedved, a player who was playing some of the best football of his career.
 
Winning a major tournament usually involves a dose of good fortune and Greece had that when Kirichenko narrowly missed in the game against Russia. Luck was not something this team had in bunches, but there was certainly an element of it present in the first 15 minutes against the Czech Republic in the EURO 2004 semi-final. The Czechs were rampant and could have led by two or three after a quarter of an hour as Tomas Rosicky saw his rocket come back off the bar amongst many other great opportunities that Karel Bruckner’s players had in a ridiculously good start to the match. 
 
It seemed like a matter of time before Greece would concede. Instead, this team once again proved that heart and will could bring a side through extremely difficult circumstances. Rehhagel’s players dug in. They recovered and they settled. 
 
Many believe the turning point of this game was when Nedved limped off after 40 minutes. That certainly was a big blow for the Czechs, but by then Greece had managed to close the gap in the contest.
 
It was no question that the more dangerous of the two teams were still Bruckner’s men. Even without Nedved, it was the Czechs who were asking most of the questions. Greece held on in the second half, they held on for dear life at times, but they defended bravely and brought the game into extra-time.
 
In the extra session, it was a turn of the tables as Greece looked to have more in the tank, taking the game to their opponents in the first period of extra-time. Stelios Giannakopoulos nearly finding an opening, only for Petr Cech to save well. As the first 15-minute half wore on, Dellas’ header missed agonizingly wide. The evidence was there already that the tide had swung. Greece, pummeled mercilessly for large swathes of the match, was now recovered and finishing the stronger team. 
 
To continue with the boxing analogy, the Ethniki found the perfect moment to deliver the knockout blow. With time running out in the first over-time period, Greece had won a corner. Tsiartas went to take it. He then swung in a perfect delivery as Dellas’ glancing header found its way past everyone at the near post. Greece had scored. And Greece had won having scored the last ever Silver Goal in history. 
 
The celebrations on the pitch were of epic proportions. The tension and drama that led up to Dellas’ header ensured, that goal, combined with its importance, was celebrated like no other that had ever been scored in Greek football history. Greece had somehow advanced to a major final.
 


FINAL

04-Jul-04 Portugal 0 - 1 Greece
Charisteas 57'

The final was a rematch against the hosts, who may have had a slow start to the competition, but were by now showing their belief that they would win the trophy on home turf. The lead-up to the final was covered extensively by Greek media featuring marathon coverage. It was a glimpse into how all Greeks were beating to the drum of this team. It seemed as though every Greek was living for the final. The request for tickets was huge, too huge in fact, there was so many who travelled to Lisbon without tickets and without hopes of getting a ticket. They simply just wanted to be there.
 
Beating a team twice in such a short span, especially the host nation of a tournament, is no easy feat. So, Greece had plenty to contend with as the final approached. Portugal had beaten England and the Netherlands in the knockout rounds. Scolari’s team were on the verge of their own history, winning their first-ever major international trophy.
 
As the final kicked off the Estadio da Luz, two teams’ destinies were colliding. The plucky underdog on a miraculous journey versus the home side expected to triumph. The match went according to plan. Portugal dictated proceedings, Greece happy to absorb pressure and look to strike on the break. The magnitude of the occasion perhaps saw Greece sit further back than in other matches. Portugal had the more dangerous chances, though Charisteas did threaten for Greece.
 
By the time the interval came, Portugal looked frustrated. It looked even more than being simply frustrated. The first half perhaps causing them to question how they could break down this well-drilled opponent who gave next to nothing away.
 
Portugal pressured and probed to no avail. On 57 minutes, the unthinkable happened. Basinas took a corner Greece had won and found Charisteas in the box. Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo was in no man’s land, and Charisteas was left to nod home freely after eluding his marker.
 
1-0 to Greece. The da Luz fell silent, except for the mad celebrations of the lucky Greek supporters who managed to find a ticket. Portugal tried for an instant response with Ronaldo’s effort from outside the box that Nikopolidis batted away. The same player should have equalized later on, but managed to fire over from 8 yards. It was perhaps a goal he has since scored hundreds of times, but on that night it wasn’t to be. Figo went very close in the last seconds, but by then it seemed like fate had already revealed what was to come. 
 
German referee Markus Merk blew the final whistle. Greece had won EURO 2004. Otto Rehhagel had master-minded the greatest-ever shock in football history. And a collection of players, virtually unknown and unheralded outside their country, had somehow manage to cause one of sport’s greatest upsets. 
 
From Athens to Thessaloniki to Crete, from London to Munich to Melbourne and New York and everywhere a Greek heart beats, fans set forth on wild celebrations having bore witness to one of the most unimaginable sporting fairytales.
 

 
BY: George Tsitsonis
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