Earlier this month, one of the biggest surprises in international football happened. Greece won the title for the first time since 1980, the nation’s maiden appearance in the tournament. Greece is one of the four additional nations included in the competition after it expands its admission from four teams to eight, making the nation a pioneer in this format and oldest than most nations in the modern format.
On the anniversary of the said triumph, 16 years to the day, Giorgos Karagounis, goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis and top scorer Angelos Charisteas recall the glorious day in Greek football. In a special interview of the UEFA, these playersreflect on Greece’s greatest sporting moments. Talking about the competition, Karagounis boasted that they “were 15 games unbeaten”.
“Our main goal for the tournament was to enjoy taking part. It was the first finals for all of us: coach and players alike. We had won a qualifying group ahead of Spain so we deserved our place and now we wanted to enjoy it,” Karagounis said. Greece booked a place in the Final, with a 1-0 win in extra time against the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Portugal beat the Netherlands in the semifinals.
The match featured tournament hosts Portugal, who went into the match as favourites, and Greece, playing in only their second EURO. “The Portugal players were under more pressure. You could see the anxiety on their faces, they were breathing heavily,” Nikopolidis said referring to the final encounter with Portugal. “We tried to make the most of it.”
“Portugal lost all of that anxiety once we scored. They started playing differently, they pressured us a lot, too much, in the final 20 minutes. But we’d been coached to defend like that and were ready to withstand it. We weathered it, we dealt with it as a unit,” Nikopolidis recall. Greece won the final 1–0, with Angelos Charisteas scoring the winning goal in the 57th minute.
It was the first time in a major international tournament where both finalists had also played in the opening game of the tournament. Both teams had qualified for the knockout stage from Group A of the tournament’s group stage, with Greece winning 2–1 in the teams’ earlier meeting. My dream when I first started playing football was to score a goal in a EURO final,” Charisteas recall.
The arch-strategist that plotted this success was coach Rehhagel. The old German strategist and champions maker Rehhagelarrived in Greece with the clear goal of rescuing the team’s unimpressive European football record. Prior to his arrival, Greece was recovering from a disappointing streak of failure in qualifying for the Euro 1996, the World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000.
This win was the most talked about victory that year and it was written in the book. Greece’s Euro 2004 title proved every country has a chance to succeed despite falling multiple times from the start. This win was celebrated in the whole Greece and all over the world. “Anything goes after a victory like that. All of us were on cloud nine, our feelings were out of control,” Karagounis recalled.