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Theo Zagorakis
  1. Football
  2. Euro 2024

Euros Classic Moments: Greece stun hosts Portugal in 2004

Here is the story of arguably the most incredible underdog story in the history of international football as Greece triumphed at the Euros in 2004.

The 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier between England and Greece saw one of the most famous footballing moments, as an injury-time free-kick from David Beckham secured a 2-2 draw and sent England to the finals in South Korea and Japan.

Here was a nation that had shaken off a disappointing Euro 2000 campaign and were set to embark on a golden generation of talent, while Greece finished fourth in the five-team group and only picked up seven points from their eight matches.

The expectation was that the match could be the starting point of a golden era for one of the teams on display, a chance to realise their dreams of glory at a major international tournament.

What we didn’t expect was that team would be Greece.

In two and a half years, German coach Otto Rehhagel transformed a nation that had never won a game at an international tournament in their only two previous appearances; Euro 1980 in Italy and the 1994 World Cup in USA.

He turned them into a team that would shock Europe and become the most unlikely winners in the history of the European Championship.

Giorgios Karagounis

Opening night shock and Spain go home

After surprisingly topping a qualifying group that included Spain and Ukraine, Greece were given a tough Euro 2004 group stage draw where they would meet hosts Portugal, an improving Russia and Spain once again.

It seemed like a straight-forward group to predict, Portugal and Spain to both progress to the quarter-finals and battle it out to win the group, while Russia and Greece would be going home early.

15 of Greece’s 23-man squad played professionally in their own country, including former Leicester City midfielder Theo Zagorakis who skippered the side.

Their overseas-based stars included Premier League duo Nikos Dabizas and Stelios Giannakopoulos, promising Werder Bremen striker Angelos Charisteas, classy Inter midfielder Georgios Karagounis and imposing centre-back Traianos Dellas, who played his football for Roma.

There was certainly talent in the ranks but it felt like a tall ask to expect progression through to the last eight.

The opening game of the tournament pitted Greece against Portugal at the home of FC Porto.

With the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Deco, Fernando Couto, Pauleta, Simao and a 19-year old Cristiano Ronaldo to contend with, it represented the toughest of starts. 

It looked like a nice game for the hosts to ease their way into the tournament, or so we thought.

Portugal were caught cold in just the sixth minute when Karagounis’ 25-yard effort found its way past the outstretched right-hand of Ricardo to give Greece a shock lead. 

Greece’s supporters were in dreamland five minutes after the interval when Angelos Basinas slotted home a penalty to double their advantage.

Theo Zagorakis

Portugal were stunned and while Ronaldo did grab a consolation in injury time, Greece held on to clinch a famous victory.

It was not quite the shock of Senegal beating reigning champions France in the opening game of the World Cup two years earlier, but nobody outside of Greece thought they had a chance of upsetting the hosts in the tournament curtain-raiser.

Four days later and Rehhagel's men met Spain, who also tasted victory in their opening game and were looking to put themselves in the driving seat for a quarter-final spot.

It looked on the cards when Fernando Morientes gave them a half-time lead, but Charisteas, who would go on to create plenty more headlines, equalised half way through the second period and Greece had earned a precious point.

Portugal’s 2-0 victory over Russia got the hosts on the board with three points, but Greece and Spain both had four points and with Russia to come in Greece’s final group game, the tournament minnows had an excellent opportunity to go through.

Greece got off to a poor start against Russia and found themselves 2-0 down within 17 minutes.

Zisis Vryzas halved the deficit shortly before half-time but with Spain and Portugal still goalless at the break, Greece were 45 minutes away from going home.

Greece searched for an equaliser but they were toothless in attack on a rare off day during their summer in Portugal. 

They needed a winner between Spain and Portugal to go through and it was Nuno Gomes who came to the rescue for Portugal as he grabbed the game’s only goal.

Antonios Nikopolidis

Portugal went through as group winners and Greece were through in second place, the first time they had ever progressed through the group stage of a major tournament.

France stunned and the silver goal

A last-eight clash with much-fancied France was Greece’s reward, after a team boasting superstars such as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires topped their group with seven points.

Victory for Greece would eclipse their win over Portugal and blow the tournament wide open, with Czech Republic taking on Denmark for a place in the semi-finals in the same half of the draw.

The first half was uneventful but Greece were pro-active, hard-working and full of endeavour, while France were lacklustre, uninspiring and perhaps a little complacent in their approach.

Despite having the better of the chances, Greece had been unable to capitalise and France improved after the break with Henry and William Gallas both going close.

In the 65th minute, France fell asleep as Zagorakis’ cross from the right wing was powerfully headed home by Charisteas to give Greece the lead.

Substitute Louis Saha and Henry both had chances to level matters in the closing stages but incredibly, Greece held on. The favourites were out and the Greek fairytale continued.

Greece football

Czech Republic overcame Denmark with ease in their quarter-final to set up a last four encounter with Greece, while heavyweights Portugal and the Netherlands met in the other semi-final.

The Czechs were the new favourites as the likes of Pavel Nedved, Vladimir Smicer, Milan Baros, Karel Poborsky and the giant Jan Koller became the next assignment for this stubborn Greek side.

Greece stood up to an incredible early onslaught as Tomas Rosicky thundered an effort against the crossbar and Marek Jankulovski’s piledriver was turned away by Antonis Nikopolidis inside the first four minutes.

Koller then hit the bar with a looping header and Jankulovski was again denied by the inspired Nikopolidis later in the first half as Greece held firm.

Czech Republic lost their talisman Nedved to injury shortly before the break, but their dominance continued in the second half with Koller failing to capitalise when Nikopolidis made a rare mistake and misjudged a corner.

Koller missed another opportunity with 10 minutes to go as he dragged a shot wide from 10 yards and the game went into extra-time.

The now defunct Silver Goal ruling was in play for the first time at a European Championship, meaning that the game could finish after the first 15 minutes if a team was ahead.

After battling to stay in the game throughout normal time, Greece were the more dominant team at the start of extra time as Stelios and Dellas went close.

The killer blow then came seconds before half-time in extra time as the 6 foot 5 centre-back Dellas rose at the near post to head home a corner.

Cue absolute delirium. Greece saw out the closing seconds and were in the final against all odds, despite being on the back foot for the majority of the semi-final.

Portugal party ruined as Greece lift trophy

Rehhagel

Greece faced Portugal in the final of Euro 2004 in Lisbon; it was a repeat of the opening game of the tournament.

It had been a truly astounding underdog story, but surely they weren’t going to ruin Portugal’s big night on home soil?

Portugal had edged past England on penalties in the quarter-finals, perhaps somewhat fortuitously after the tournament’s breakout star Wayne Rooney had gone off injured and Sol Campbell saw his late winner controversially ruled out for a foul on ‘keeper Ricardo.

They then overcame the Netherlands 2-1 in the semi-finals and the scene was set for Portugal to avenge their shock loss in the group stage and lift the trophy in front of their home fans.

For Greece, one last miraculous effort was needed but they had to do it without their playmaker Karagounis who was suspended following his yellow-card against the Czechs.

Rehhagel once again made sure his team was magnificently organised and hard-working off the ball.

The first-half went as many had anticipated, Portugal were on the front foot and a well-drilled Greece side sat back and countered when they could.

But Portugal couldn’t find an opener as they were frustrated by a resolute backline and Nikopolidis, who was again rising to the big occasion.

Early in the second half, Greece grew into the game and incredibly broke the deadlock when Charisteas headed home a corner from Basinas.

Lisbon was stunned as Greece’s supporters celebrated wildly while Portugal fans looked on perplexed.

Portugal pressed for an equaliser with Ronaldo going close on a couple of occasions, while Figo saw a late effort deflected narrowly wide of the post.

Despite mounting attack after attack, they couldn’t get past a formidable defensive setup and Greece held on to claim a sensational victory.

Many of the Greek players and fans were in tears; it was a monumental achievement for a country who had previously never won a game in tournament football.

As Zagorakis lifted the trophy, it signified one of the most remarkable moments in international football history.

Otto Rehhagel
Euro 2024

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