Football always presents surprises. One of the biggest surprises that happened in the 21st century was the 2004 European Cup tournament when a team that was not seeded at all became champions.
In organizing its 12th event, UEFA entrusted Portugal to hold the 2004 European cup in its country. Portugal at that time defeated its neighbors, Spain, and Austria-Hungary which volunteered to be joint organizers.
This time, Greece, a nowhere country in the European football arena, gave a big surprise because they came out as the champion after defeating the host, Portugal, 1-0 in the final match.
Greece’s journey to win the European throne was not easy as they had to go through the qualifying round. Greece was included in Group 6 with Armenia, Northern Ireland, Spain and Ukraine. Despite swallowing defeat in the first two matches, Greece smoothly went through the rest of the match.
After undergoing a total of eight matches, Greece managed to collect 18 points, one point more than Spain. Both of them also qualified for the final.
Despite being qualified as champion, in the group draw, Greece was in Pot 4 with Bulgaria, Switzerland, and Latvia while the Greek coefficient was the second smallest after Latvia. Even Spain, which ended their qualification with one point behind them, were in Pot 2.
After the draw, Greece joined group A which could be said to be a death group because it contained the home team with Luis Figo and his young star, Cristiano Ronaldo, Spain who were reinforced by La Liga stars, and one team with the same quality, Russia.
Join in a heavy group without having star-players and only as a team under the dog, making Greece increasingly underestimated.
However, coming as the underdog team’s predicate, the Greek national team played carefreely and seemed relaxed when facing their opponents. This was proven through the opening match of the European Cup against Portugal.
Thanks to the cold hand of the German coach who also once brought the nowhere team, FC Kaiserslautern won the Bundesliga. Greece could make Portugal helpless. Performed with the best power, Portugal surrendered with a score of 1-2.
Greece’s winning goals were scored by Karagounis in the 7th minute and Basinas in the 51st minute through the white point. While Portugal’s point was scored by Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the second half. In that match, Greece only had two chances, but they took advantage of them effectively.
In the second match, Greece again impressed the eyes of football lovers. Troops of the “land of the gods” were able to withstand a 1-1 draw in Spain which was strengthened by famous names such as Raul Gonzales, Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, and Fernando Morientes.
After two glorious matches, Greece stumbled in the final group match. Facing Russia with the same quality, Greece managed to win with a score of 1-2.
Four points were enough to make Theodoros Zagorakis and friends advanced to the quarter-finals as group runners-up under Portugal who packed six points.
In the quarterfinals, Greece faced France, the ruling champions of the previous edition. Les Bleus, reinforced by famous names, favored their defeat. But a header from Angelos Charisteas in the second half was enough to get rid of this 2000 European Cup champion.
This suddenly became the second surprise made by Greece at the tournament. Their winning over France, which was the previous champion, made the public was surprised. This further made Greece was no longer underestimated in the competition.
In the semi-finals, Greece then faced the Czech Republic, another dark horse team with a high goal record. The Czech Republic, which at that time was strengthened by Petr Cech, Pavel Nedved, Milan Baros, and Jan Koller, advanced to the semi-finals after eliminating Denmark 3-0 in the quarter-finals.
In the semi-finals held at Estadio Do Dragao, both teams played relaxed. Giving and taking attacks had been happening for 90 minutes of normal time, and the result was still a score of glasses.
Both teams were forced to play extra time 15 minutes twice. The silver goal rule was enforced during this match. It was at this crucial time that miracles happened again.
Through a corner kick in the 105th minute, Traianos Dallas put Greece ahead through a header. The 1-0 score lasted until the end and brought Greece to the top match for the first time in history.
Greece again met Portugal in the final. The host was, of course, more favored than Greece which only participated twice in the European Cup. The narrative at that time was: time for retaliation. The prediction was: Greece would play negatively and Portugal would look for a quick goal.
But the truth is: the game was flowing and interesting. Both teams reciprocated attacks. Although at the beginning of the match Portugal dominated and bombarded the Greek defense with attacks, Greece appeared powerful and was able to block any threat given by the host.
The second round was opened with an opportunity from Pauleta, but in front of the Portuguese supporters, the Greek goalkeeper remained inaccessible. However, in the 57th minute, a deadlock broke. Angelos Charisteas headed in a corner kick from Angelos Basinas.
In the final at the Estadio De Luz, Lisbon, which was packed with 62,685 spectators, the strength of Greece was proven. The 1-0 score lasted until the German referee, Markus Merk, blew a long whistle.
Suddenly Greek players and coaches ran to the middle of the field as joy, and sorrow became one in the stadium. Selecao young star, Cristiano Ronaldo could not hide his disappointment, his eyes looked teary.
The first trophy for Greece shocked everyone’s predictions. Armed with less popular players such as aging goalkeeper, Nikopolidis, Defender Angelos Basinas, midfielder Zagorakis, and striker Charisteas, Greece was surprising Europe and even the world.
Greece indeed managed to make new history. They achieved it by applying pragmatic football tactics; piling up players in defense, making the opponents frustrated and giving quick counterattacks. This tactic was quite successful when they faced France and the Czech Republic which implemented an attacking strategy.
And all this, of course, thanks to the cold hand of Otto Rehagel, the coach who was then 66 years old. It did not have to be productive, but the important thing is to win. Those were the style and strategy that led Greece to become champions.
“This is an extraordinary achievement for Greek football and specifically for European football. We take advantage of our opportunities. Opponents are better technically than we are, but we can take advantage of opportunities. Greece makes history in football. This is a sensation,” Rehhagel said after the final match (Quoted from Thesefootballthemes)
The Greek title became even more special after the midfielder, Theodoros Zagorakis, was claimed to be the best player for his persistent performances throughout the tournament; an appearance that made the Greek defense completely protected. Besides, the player with the number 7 uniform also became the soul of the Greek game.
This history created by Greece seemed to give us a message that big names give no guarantee. After all, every success in football cannot be achieved as easily as turning a hand. It takes a struggle and the right strategy so that all the abilities of the players can be optimized and let God does the rest.