How Greece did the impossible in the 2004 Euros

One of the things that make football so interesting is the storytelling. Being a sport that has so many fans all over the world, developing so many different football cultures in so many different countries, it lends itself to a lot of interesting stories and a lot of interesting situations that are worth talking about.

Greece - fans who likes souvlaki
Of course, major upsets and underdog stories are a very common theme in football, and one of the best stories in that regard is Greece's legendary summer of 2004 when they won the Euros in Portugal, defeating the hosting nation in the process. It is as epic as it sounds and even more so when you consider the fact that Greece have never a major powerhouse in the world of football, and this particular Euros were filled with some of the best squads in the competition's history.

The man in charge - Otto Rehhagel

The man in charge of coaching and leading Greece during that historical moment was German manager Otto Rehhagel. One of the most important players/manager in Bundesliga history (he is, along with Jupp Heynckes, the only person to amass more than one thousand games in the Bundesliga as a player and as a manager, plus the highest amount of victories, defeats and draws as a manager in the league), and after having enjoyed a lot of success with Werder Bremen and Kaiserslautern, Rehhagel took over at Greece in 2001 and the 2004 Euros was his first shot at an international tournament.

A lot of the context has been lost over the years when analyzing how Greece arrived to the competition. During their qualification process to the Euros, they had an excellent six-games streak that allow them to qualify to the competition, and they were also hosting the Olympics that summer, so among Greek fans there was this perception that this tournament in Portugal was just a warm-up for the really important stuff.

There were comments, many years later, made by some players of the Greece national team saying that their goal was to simply win a game in this competition.

Greece started off great

Well, they did a lot more than that. In fact, the first major upset of the competition was when they defeated the hosts, Portugal, in the opening game through a 2-1 score, with goals scored by Giorgos Karagounis and Angelos Basinas. It motivated the entire squad and the nation, and they never looked back as they drew 1-1 with Spain and lost 2-1 with Russia, qualifying to the next round in second place.

One of the biggest comments that Greece received during the competition (and it has been a running theme ever since) is the fact that Rehhagel set the team to play very defensive football. In fact, there have been claims that the football that they played was so negative and defensive-minded that it could be considered anti-football, which is ludicrous, of course.

Rehhagel understood that Greece couldn't play mano-a-mano with teams such as Portugal, France or Spain, and opted for a tactical approach that was a lot more in line with the players at his disposal and to the demands of the match. It would have been a lot worse for his players to go toe-to-toe with them because it would have left them exposed.

Plus, at the end of the day, this approach allowed Rehhagel and his players to win the Euros, which is something that no one in the country has come close to repeating, before and after, so there was a method to the German's madness, and it showed through every match.

Reaching the final

The quarterfinals had a very complicated rival: France. They were the reigning champions and, led by the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, it made a lot of sense for them to be favorites in the competition, but they never truly got going in the tournament and failed to break down the Greek defense.

It would be the then-Werder Bremen striker, Angelos Charisteas, who would break the deadlock for Greece and have qualify to the semifinals. Charisteas had an excellent run of form during this competition, scoring against Spain in the group stages, and also to the Frenchmen... but his greatest moment was still waiting for him.

The semifinals would be against another surprise of the competition, the Czech Republic. They, led by the Ballon d'Or Pavel Nedved, also had a golden generation, and were a strong candidate to do something special here, but they were defeated in extra time as then-Roma defender Traianos Dellas scored in the 105th minute to take Greece to a historic final against the hosting nation, Portugal.

Up against Portugal again in the final

Of course, Portugal were massive favorites here. Not only were the hosting nation, but they had a very season group of players from the Golden Generation of the 90s, with Luis Figo at the helm, and a new crop of footballers that came from Jose Mourinho's Porto that won the Champions League that year, and a somewhat known young player named Cristiano Ronaldo. It seemed to be Portugal's time for greatness.

It wasn't. It was Greece's. It was Charisteas'.

It was a very tight game with Greece sitting back, but Charisteas scored a header and it led to them having the victory in their hands. The Portuguese didn't know how to deal with their defense, and it eventually led to Greece celebrating like madmen in the final whistle while the picture of Cristiano Ronaldo crying became part of the history books. Greece were the champions of the 2004 Euros.

It is obvious that Greece are not going to enter the history books of football due to their playing style-they were not the most interesting team in that regard. But their teamwork, commitment to do what their manager asked them to do, and sacrifice in every game was admirable, to the point that their triumph is widely regarded as one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.

It was the summer of 2004, and Greece managed to surprise everybody in the process. And they did so with some of that Greek fire.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.