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Thursday, July 4, 2024

Remembering Greece’s shock Euro 2004 triumph 20 years later

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If Turkey or Switzerland are on the lookout for added inspiration that they may do the seemingly not possible and win Euro 2024, they needn’t look far.

It has been 20 years since Greece turned up on the European Championship hoping to attain only one objective. As a substitute, in opposition to all odds and customary sense, they left Portugal as champions. It is nonetheless thought-about the best upset within the competitors’s historical past, and even when both Turkey or Switzerland had been to win this version in Germany, it nonetheless would not come near what Greece achieved at Euro 2004.

Switzerland have reached at the least the spherical of 16 on the previous six main tournaments and knocked France out of the final Euros. Turkey completed third on the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2008.

For Greece, nonetheless, what they did got here utterly out of the blue.

“We can’t child ourselves and say we had been anticipating it,” defender Nikos Dabizas tells ESPN. “Earlier than that, Greece had certified for the Euros in Italy in 1980 after which the World Cup in America in 1994. We had a tough group within the USA and confronted Nigeria, Bulgaria and Argentina and we did not handle to attain a objective.

“It was fairly heavy to simply accept. That legacy, in a destructive sense, was looking us and after we certified 10 years after that all of us sat collectively and stated, ‘Hear boys, we now have to be aggressive and signify our nation in the very best manner.’

“We needed to attain a objective and win a sport. Do one thing higher than what we had performed in America. This was what was in our minds. That was our trustworthy strategy.”

Given what had occurred within the U.S. — conceding 10 objectives and scoring none in three lopsided defeats — there was little expectation that issues can be higher on the Euros, significantly after Greece had been drawn in a gaggle alongside Spain, Russia and hosts Portugal. The gamers had been additionally battling an angle at house that the nationwide workforce wasn’t as necessary to followers as their fierce membership loyalties to Olympiacos and Panathinaikos.

All that started to alter, although, with a shock win over Portugal within the opening sport. A 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo scored the primary of his 130 worldwide objectives, however Greece held on to win 2-1.

“The largest factor we had as a gaggle was that we had been very pragmatic and really reasonable in the way in which we approached the video games,” Dabizas recollects. “We needed to play the opening sport in opposition to the hosts, Portugal, with all their large stars like Luis Figo and a younger Cristiano Ronaldo. Then it was Spain.

“We had been very robust in our strategy and performed to our capability. We did not attempt to do issues that we couldn’t do and did not signify us. We had a giant preventing spirit between us and this was the primary factor that helped us.”

Victory over Portugal was adopted by a creditable draw in opposition to Spain however, shedding 2-0 to Russia within the last group sport, there was a degree at which Greece had been heading out. They had been solely saved by Portugal topping Spain and sending Greece by means of as group runners-up.

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The reward was a quarterfinal in opposition to France. One member of the squad was as a result of get married quickly afterward and took the choice to depart the preparations as they had been whereas others stored their plans for post-tournament holidays in place.

In spite of everything, they’d no probability in opposition to the holders, led by two of one of the best gamers on the planet in Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, and in all chance can be again house quickly.

“Considered one of our teammates was getting married,” Dabizas says. “It was scheduled earlier than the match after which he needed to decide. He left it as a result of we thought we most likely will not get by means of in opposition to Zidane, Henry, [Robert] Pires and [Patrick] Vieira. We thought it was the tip of the highway. We had been very proud to qualify from the group but it surely was France, you realize? It wasn’t that we had given up however we left our plans for the summer season the identical. Ultimately, he had an excuse to not get married!”

A second-half objective from tall, bodily centre-forward Angelos Charisteas and a battling defensive show was sufficient to win 1-0 and dump France out. It additionally prompted the primary criticisms of Greece’s pragmatic fashion and complaints that below 65-year-old German coach Otto Rehhagel they had been fundamental, restricted and boring.

“We did not care about that,” Dabizas says. “We knew our strengths. We weren’t Brazil. We weren’t France. We needed to adapt our strategy to a mode that suited us. We knew we needed to be robust defensively and after that we needed to be very environment friendly going ahead, on the counterattack and with set items.

“You would not ask a Pep Guardiola workforce to play lengthy balls. For us to play otherwise would have been suicide. It did not go well with us. We did not fear concerning the criticism.”

Simply joyful to be there up till that time, beating France turned the launch pad for what was to comply with. They beat the Czech Republic 1-0 within the semifinals to arrange a rematch with Portugal within the last. And identical to they’d performed to Zidane and Henry, Greece nullified Ronaldo and Figo and one other Charisteas objective from a nook — their solely try on course — earned one other 1-0 win. When the ultimate whistle blew, Greece had been champions of Europe.

“It was pure pleasure,” Dabizas remembers. “It was one thing within the mind that took over and also you bounce like a child. We had been like children, leaping to one another. After we got here again to Greece, it was unbelievable.

“There have been individuals all the way in which from the airport to town centre. For 20 miles they had been outdoors on the road ready for us with flags. After we obtained to Panathaikios stadium, it was a second I am going to always remember. That was the primary second I realised what was occurring within the nation. After we got here again we realised what we had performed and what we had achieved.”

By way of to the quarterfinals of Euro 2024, Turkey and Switzerland are chasing one thing related. Outsiders within the final eight amongst heavyweights like Germany, France, England and Spain, they’re flying the flag for the underdogs that Greece carried so spectacularly 20 years in the past.

“It is one thing very uncommon and I do not assume it may possibly ever occur once more,” Dabizas says. “Surprises are likely to go lacking in trendy soccer. What we did, it should by no means fade. it is one thing to make us very proud.”

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