Soccer: Greece gets second chance at Euro 2004

Greece gets second chance at Euro 2004

FOX Sports
May 27 2004

Associated Press
May. 27, 2004 11:59 a.m.

ATHENS, Greece (AP)— Greece is playing in a European Championship for
the first time in 24 years with hopes of erasing past embarrassments.

A good performance at Euro 2004 in Portugal would also give the
country a sporting boost ahead of the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

Greece’s German coach Otto Rehhagel is aiming high. After completing
a lap of honor with his players last year to celebrate qualification
for the June 12-July 4 finals, “King Otto” spelled out his team’s

“We want to make an impact in Portugal. We don’t just want to put in
an appearance.”

Greece topped Group 6, forcing favorites Spain to the playoffs,
in a qualification stunner.

Having lost just one match in 16 encounters, Greece is feeling
optimistic despite a daunting fixture list – hosts Portugal in the
tournament’s opening match on June 12, followed by a revenge-hungry
Spain and unpredictable Russia.

On top of this, Greece’s record at the highest level is dismal. The
country has never won a game in the finals of any major competition.

Humiliation last came in 1994 in the United States, when Greece’s first
World Cup appearance ended in disaster with three heavy defeats. In
their first game against Argentina, Greece conceded a goal just 83
seconds into the match and went on to lose 4-0.

An early exit in Portugal would kill the sense of pride revived since
Rehhagel’s arrival in 2001.

The German triggered a change in the team’s fortunes after another
failed campaign in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers and a walkout by
Demis Nikolaidis and other star players disgusted at the state of
Greek soccer.

Rehhagel set out methodically to reinvent the team, luring back
Nikolaidis to join Angelos Haristeas and Zissis Vryzas in attack and
form a trio that fired Greece through the Euro 2004 qualification

Early signs of recovery were evident in the 2-2 draw with England in
a 2002 World Cup qualifier at Old Trafford. Nikolaidis put the Greeks
ahead early in the second half and England only scraped through thanks
to David Beckham’s historic last-minute free kick.

The road to Portugal started badly for the Greeks who suffered 2-0
defeats at home to Spain in September 2002 and away to Ukraine a
month later.

But Rehhagel’s confidence in his men was rewarded and Greece bounced
back four days later to beat Armenia 2-0 at home with Nikolaidis
scoring both goals. Haristeas received the honors in April 2003 when
Greece beat Northern Ireland in Belfast with two goals from the Werder
Bremen striker.

Greece’s finest hour came last June when a stunning 1-0 away victory
against Spain, with the damage dome by Bolton Wanderers midfielder
Stelios Giannakopoulos.

Qualification was suddenly with reach, and victory against Ukraine
four days afterward with a late Haristeas goal put the Greeks squarely
back in contention.

Rehhagel’s men leapfrogged Spain to go top after the favorites were
held by Northern Ireland.

There was no looking back.

Greece traveled to Armenia to deliver a 1-0 defeat, in a match marred
by bribery allegations that were eventually dropped by Armenian
officials. And a final 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland sealed the
winning run.

Key to Greece’s revival was the squad’s newfound unity and attacking
mentality, with German rigor imposed on a traditionally undisciplined

Rehhagel’s innovations including a strong defense line with Nikos
Dabitzas and Traianos Dellas joining Yiannis Goumas or Michalis
Kapsis. The fast footed Yiourkas Seitaridis played right and Stelios
Venetidis or Panagiotis Fyssas played down the left.

Superb goalkeeping from Antonis Nikopolidis kept the Greek unbeaten,
despite being sidelined by his own Athens club in a salary dispute.

Angelos Basinas, Vassilis Tsiartas – who grabbed the winning goal
against Northern Ireland – and captain Theodore Zagorakis are likely
to feature prominently in the Greek midfield. Inter Milan agile
midfielder Giorgos Karagounis adds an extra dose of creativity.

Greece conceded four goals in eight qualification matches, in the
face of attacking might of players like Real Madrid’s Raul Gonzalez
and AC Milan’s Andriy Shevchenko, both firing blanks.

Rehhagel, a former Werder Bremen coach, is not expected to make any
substantial changes to the spine of the team.

A reality check for Greece came on April 28 when the unbeaten streak
was finally ended by a 4-0 friendly defeat at the hands of fellow
qualifiers the Netherlands.

It was an uncomfortable reminder of their crushing 5-0 defeat to
England at Wembley prior to the 1994 World Cup. Greece went on to
concede 10 goals – scoring none – in the finals.

Greece didn’t heed the warning then. An entire nation is hoping they
will now.