EURO 2004 Flashback: When it all began

EURO 2004 Flashback: When it all began

UEFA EURO 2004 - GROUP A (MATCHDAY 1)

Portugal 1 - 2 Greece
Ronaldo 90'+3'

12-Jun-04

Karagounis 7'
Basinas (P) 51'
Estadio do Dragao, Porto, Portugal

Fifteen years on from one of the greatest achievements in Greek sporting history, AGONAsport breaks down each game from Greece’s remarkable EURO 2004 success. The first installment in this special series takes a close look at the opening match of that tournament pitting hosts Portugal versus the Ethniki. It was a memorable encounter that provided an early glimpse of the shock that would follow in the coming weeks.

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BACKGROUND

No home team had lost the opener of a European Championships since the tournament went to eight teams in 1980 and sixteen in 1996. The expectations entering EURO 2004 was that was a record that was not in danger of being broken. Portugal were amongst the tournament favorites. Not only did they possess the stars of their golden generation who were nearing the end of their careers such as Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and Fernando Couto, but they also featured the bulk of Porto’s Champions’ League winning side from 2004. Add to that, an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo ready to break out onto the world stage and the Portuguese squad was one of great experience, balance, depth, and promise.

Portugal had reached the semi-finals of EURO 2000, however they were coming off a subpar 2002 World Cup. In order to maximize their chances of winning on home soil, they managed to convince Brazil’s World Cup winning manager, Luis Felipe Scolari, to join them.

On the other hand, Greece entered the competition with low expectations. Competing in their first major tournament in a decade, the hope was an avoidance of embarrassment. At the 1994 World Cup, the team returned home in shame after losing all three matches, failing to score any goals, and conceding ten in the process.

Otto Rehhagel’s appointment in August 2001 brought a change in the fortunes of the national team. After a rocky start to qualification for EURO 2004, Greece became a solid unit under the German manager. The lack of discipline and fractious nature of the squad had been replaced by a unity and organization that had rarely, if ever, been seen by the Ethniki in its history.

Still, this was as far as this side was supposed to go. A decent performance in the Group Stage in Portugal would have pleased just about everyone. Everyone perhaps Rehhagel and the players. They knew what they were capable of and there was a hunger to show their worth on one of the game’s biggest stages.

LINEUPS

PORTUGAL (Scolari): Ricardo (GK), Ferreira, Jorge, Andrade, Couto (C), Costinha (66’ Gomes), Figo, Pauleta, Costa (46’ Deco), Simao, Maniche

GREECE (Rehhagel): Nikopolidis (GK), Seitaridis, Dellas, Basinas, Zagorakis (C), Giannakopoulos (68’ Nikolaidis), Charisteas (74’ Lakis), Fyssas, Vryzas, Kapsis, Karagounis (46’ Katsouranis)

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THE MATCH

Greece began the match at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto in fantastic fashion. Rehhagel’s players pressed Portugal high up the pitch giving Scolari’s men fits from the start. A Zisis Vryzas cross saw Aggelos Charisteas swing and miss just ten yards from goal inside the first minute. It was a glaring miss, but a sign of the positive things to come.

The home team looked tentative and struggled with the lack of space afforded to them by Greece’s man-marking strategy. Rehhagel believed in the discipline of his players to stay with their opponents and the willingness of their teammates to cover should they get beat.

In the 7th minute, midfield pressure forced Portuguese right-back Paolo Ferreira into a bad giveaway. The ball was picked up by Giorgos Karagounis. The Greek midfielder took two touches and unleashed a well-hit low shot that beat Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo from some 25 yards. Unbelievably, Greece had taken the lead, 1-0.

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The goal did not wake up Portugal as much as most would have thought. In fact, for the first 20-25 minutes it was Greece who looked likelier to score again. Portugal gradually began to assert themselves into the match, but the remainder of the first half saw them fail to create any big opportunities.

The second half saw Scolari make a double change. Simao and Rui Costa were withdrawn in favor of Ronaldo and Deco. Ronaldo made an immediate impact on the match, unfortunately for him and Portugal it was in the wrong way. Charisteas picked off an errant Costinha pass and sent the ball through, finding the overlapping run of right-back Giourkas Seitaridis. He streaked toward the box only to be brought down by Ronaldo. Pierluigi Collina immediately pointed to the spot.

Angelos Basinas stepped up and buried the ensuing penalty-kick into the roof of the net, sending Ricardo the wrong way. If changes were made to the script with Greece’s first goal, the team’s second had now torn the original into pieces.

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Portugal laid siege to the Greek goal toward the end of the game. By this point, Deco and Ronaldo’s influence could be felt and they finished the match strongly. Ronaldo soared to head Figo’s corner past Antonis Nikopolidis in the Greek goal. The injury-time strike brought it back to 2-1 and Portugal were hoping for enough time to find the equalizer. It wasn’t to be. Collina blew for full-time soon after and Greece had produced one of the EURO’s great upsets by defeating the heavily-favored host nation in the opening match of the tournament.

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MAN OF THE MATCH - Theodoros Zagorakis

Zagorakis’ non-stop running and tenacious defending was key in this encounter. He was a true leader in the middle of the park and set the tone early with some superb tackles. The Greek captain produced an all-around inspirational display.

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UNSUNG HERO - Giourkas Seitaridis

The Greek defender was at his rampaging best down the flank. Regardless of who he faced on his side, Seitaridis performed his defensive duties superbly and was a genuine threat going forward as evidenced by the penalty he won early in the second half.

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PLAY OF THE GAME - Giorgos Karagounis

The early goal was everything for Greece. The confidence derived from Karagounis scoring was palpable. That terrific burst into space and well-hit shot were part of the play that helped define the match.

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THE TURNING POINT - Basinas Penalty

Basinas’ penalty conversion made it 2-0 and gave Greece an even more confident air about them. With the two-goal cushion, the team could sit back and absorb pressure while trying to hit on the counter-attack. As the clock ticked, the deficit weighed heavily on Portugal. They did manage to score at the death, but it seemed as though the belief was lost much earlier than that.

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LOOKING AHEAD

The victory in the opening match meant that Greece would meet Spain in a meeting of two teams who their first games. A point against the favored Spanish side would mean qualification was a distinct possibility.

AGONAsport contributor George Tsitsonis is a Greek-American football journalist who is writing a book on Greece winning EURO 2004. It will be the first time this story is told in comprehensive fashion in English. The book will be produced by Fair Play Books and is due out early in 2020.

 

Image Source: SDNA.gr

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