A trawl through the European Championship archives will see you hit many landmark moments but few of the editions are able to rival the shocks, quality, star names and all-round appeal of Euro 2004.
The tournament was high octane drama from the opening game between hosts Portugal and Greece right up to and including the final between…well… Portugal and Greece.
Euro 2004 is primarily remembered for producing one of the biggest international shocks of all time, and it isn’t that England actually looked quite a dangerous team and showed signs of being good enough to win the tournament.
Greece headed to Euro 2004 in Portugal as rank outsiders to win the European Championship
But manager Otto Rehhagel (left with trophy) masterminded one of football’s biggest shocks by beating the host nation twice as well as holders France to secure Greece’s shock win
It is, of course, the story of how Greece picked their way through a competition where Europe’s big hitters, who mostly had incredibly talented squads, all somehow fell away and allowed a team who had never previously won a major tournament game to claim their only international trophy.
Now admittedly the warning signs were already there after Greece topped a qualifying group including Spain. It must be noted at the time that while Spain were a strong outfit with star players including Raul, Xavi and Carles Puyol, their reputation was of a team who constantly underperformed and were still dining off that one time they won something in the 1960s (Euro 64) – the Iberian England if you wish.
Nonetheless, Greece were drawn in a group along with Portugal, Spain and Russia and no one even considered the prospect that they might get through – they were as far out as 80-1 to win the tournament. The main talk was whether Russia could spring a surprise and sneak through.
Greece flew out the blocks in Porto by defeating host nation Portugal in the opening game with help from a strike by Georgios Karagounis (second left)
Karagounis celebrates his goal which saw Greece win 2-1 and set the tone for the competition
Angelos Charisteas then helped Greece grab a draw with Spain on their way to the last eight
Greece even entered the tournament with in-house issues. Players were unhappy with manager Rehhagel’s treatment of defender Michalis Kapsis, midfielder Angelos Basinas had been in dispute with the Greek FA over bonus payments, while goalkeepers Antonios Nikopolidis and Konstantinos Chalkias were not even speaking to each other.
Yet Euro 2004’s opening game set the tone for the drama filled summer when Greece stunned the host nation with a 2-1 win – with goals from Georgios Karagounis and Basinas sealing a comfortable victory despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s stoppage time consolation in his major tournament debut.
A fluke? Not so, a 1-1 draw followed with Spain after Angelos Charisteas’s equaliser.
Bafflingly they then fell to their only defeat of the tournament in arguably their easiest game as the already eliminated Russia secured a 2-1 win, with Zisis Vryzas’s goal before the break unable to kick a fightback into gear after going 2-0 down.
Euro 2004 saw the emergence of world class talent including Wayne Rooney for England
Holland and Czech Republic played one of Euro 2004’s best games with the latter triumphing 3-2. Pictured, Dutch winger Arjen Robben (left) fends off tournament top scorer Milan Baros
However Vryzas’s goal proved crucial. Spain had lost 1-0 to Portugal, leaving them level on points with Greece in the battle for a runners-up spot to reach the quarter-finals. With an even head-to-head record, and the same goal difference it was goals scored that saw Greece grab the place at the expense of the ‘Iberian England’.
Speaking of England, they had shown resolve after bottling a 1-0 lead in stoppage time in their defeat by France to win their next two group games and join the French in the quarter-finals.
Sven Goran Eriksson’s side were looking strong – especially with young striker Wayne Rooney having already scored four goals – making the Three Lions a genuinely feared outfit heading into the knockout stages.
Along with Spain, two other big names fell in the group stage, with perhaps one of Germany’s weakest ever squads losing out to Czech Republic and Holland for a last eight spot as they failed to win a match in a group also featuring minnows Latvia.
It was in Group D where the quality of the tournament was marked out best, with the quarter-finalists battling out a 3-2 win in Czech Republic’s favour in a match that was played like a basketball game such was the end-to-end attacking.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his European Championships bow and scored a stunning goal in Sweden’s 1-1 draw with Italy in the group stage to grab an equaliser five minutes from time
Ibrahimovic inspired Sweden to the quarter-finals in an entertainment packed tournament
Even Group C had its fair share of drama, with Italy the other major nation falling by the way side despite finishing level on five points with group winners Sweden and Denmark.
Sweden were sparkling in the group having already scored one of the goals of the tournament through Zlatan Ibrahimovic with an extraordinary backheel volley to equalise against Italy with five minutes to play.
Before the final games it was already known a 2-2 draw was enough for Denmark and Sweden to reach the quarter-finals at Italy’s expense… and that is exactly how it played out after Sweden grabbed an equaliser with a minute to play. Italy were out on a goals scored metric between the three teams and despite the nation sensing skulduggery, UEFA found no means to investigate any foul play among the Scandinavians.
It mattered little to both in the quarter-finals, Denmark and Sweden were eliminated without scoring another goal by the Czech Republic and Holland respectively, with the Swedes departing on penalty kicks.
Italy disappointed and were one of the big names to depart Euro 2004 in the group stage
Germany failed to win a game as they also departed Euro 2004 before the quarter-finals
The best game of the quarter-finals took place in Lisbon where England and Portugal played out a thriller and the Three Lions reverted to their usual nervous cautious selves once star man Rooney departed with an injury in the first half. Michael Owen’s early goal looked to have won them the game, only for Tottenham Hotspur flop Helder Postiga to fluff a header and equalise with his shoulder with seven minutes to play.
England had a goal controversially ruled out in the final minute through Sol Campbell after an apparent foul by John Terry on the goalkeeper Ricardo, but battled well in the resulting extra time period after falling behind to a wonderful Manuel Rui Costa effort with a Frank Lampard equaliser.
To penalties it went, and with Beckham’s opening spot-kick still in orbit to this day and Darius Vassell being denied by a keeper wearing no gloves – one of England’s best tournament showings was once again all over early in the knockout stages.
Still the tournament had to go on and the prospect of mouthwatering semi-finals featuring Portugal, Holland, the Czech Republic and France was on the cards.
England had impressed upon reaching the last eight, and were unfortunate not to knock the hosts out after a last gasp goal from Sol Campbell (6) was disallowed for a John Terry (5) foul
Supporters were enraged by the decision which ultimately cost England a semi-final place
Despite a strong showing, England tumbled out to Portugal on penalties in Lisbon
France looked strong in progressing through the group stage unbeaten following two wins, with a squad containing Zinedine Zidane and Arsenal’s recent invincible winners Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires. Greece were again assumed to just be making up the numbers ahead of their clash in Lisbon.
France though were soon following England, Italy and Germany home when the holders were stunned 1-0, following Charisteas’s header just after the hour mark.
This was Greece’s landmark win in the tournament and by now they were starting to be understood as a serious threat having bloodied the nose of the host nation, bullied Spain and dumped out the holders and favourites France.
Rehhagel pulled off a masterstroke in the quarter-final, by lining up with a zonal defensive approach led by Roma’s Traianos Dellas, while right back Giourkas Seitaridis was deployed to man-mark Henry out of the game. With Greece showing a clinical nature in their rare attacks and now proven to hold firm against arguably the world’s best forward players – the unthinkable was now at least in the back of people’s minds.
Greece pulled off another huge shock, with Charisteas’s header knocking out France
Greece’s defensive approach saw France’s major threat Thierry Henry marked out of the game
Zinedine Zidane walks off dejected as Greece stars celebrate beating the tournament holders
Next up were the Czech Republic, another side who had a feared attack consisting of Juventus star Pavel Nedved, Liverpool striker (and Euro 2004’s top scorer) Milan Baros, as well as target man Jan Koller who at two meters was the tallest player at the finals. Future Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky was also among their ranks as was Chelsea bound Petr Cech.
Again, Greece shut them all down and as the game went into extra-time, they made the most of their few chances when Dellas scored in stoppage time of the first half of the added 30 minutes to book an instant, as well as jaw dropping, spot in the final.
Why didn’t the game go into an extra 15 minutes? Before the tournament UEFA decided to replace the unpopular ‘golden goal’ rule with a just as silly concept known as ‘silver goal.’ The premise being if one team scores in extra-time, the opponents have until the end of the half in play to equalise. In effect, the Czech Republic never stood a chance of doing just that after Dellas’s late header from a corner.
It set up a meeting with hosts Portugal who, by contrast, had reached the final in style, with Ronaldo having now become a major star in the team having started the tournament on the bench, scoring in a 2-0 win over Holland. Maniche was also on target with one of the goals of the finals after finding the far top corner from the corner of the 18-yard-box.
GREECE’S KEY EURO 2004 STARS
Antonios Nikopolidis – Greece’s goalkeeping hero after three knock-out stage clean sheets.
Yet he turned hero to zero after Euro 2004 among Panathinaikos fans, after walking out on the club after 15 years to join bitter rivals Olympiacos following a pre-tournament agreement.
Giourkas Seitaridis – The right back won a penalty after being fouled by Ronaldo in the opening game, before later man-marking Henry out of the tournament.
After leaving Panathinaikos he joined Porto and also had a spell at Atletico Madrid before retiring in 2013.
Traianos Dellas – The former Sheffield United centre back was linked with moves to the Premier League after the tournament but he stayed at Roma for another year, before spending the last seven seasons of his career in Greece
Angelos Basinas – His corner set up Charisteas’s winner in the final but he stayed at Panathinaikos another year. Joined Portsmouth in 2009 but despite reaching the FA Cup final was also part of the team relegated from the Premier League.
Theodoros Zagorakis – The former Leicester midfielder was 32 when he lifted the trophy as captain and was named in the team of the tournament along with Nikopolidis, Seitaridis, Dellas and Charisteas.
Left AEK Athens for Bologna before retiring from the game in 2007 with 120 caps spread over 13 years.
Stelios Giannakopoulos – The talented Bolton Wanderers midfielder was a victim of the defensive reshuffle after the group stage having been dropped but was recalled for the final.
Left the Trotters after five years to join Hull for their maiden Premier League season in 2008
Angelos Charisteas – Only Baros, Rooney and Holland’s Ruud van Nistelrooy scored more than his three goals, but his winner in the final will live long in the memory back in Greece.
The striker spent his next three seasons playing with Werder Bremen, Ajax and Feyenoord respectively.
Zisis Vryzas – The Fiorentina forward was Greece’s main striker throughout Euro 2004 despite only scoring in a defeat by Russia.
Spells at Celta Vigo and Torino followed before he retied in 2008
Giorgos Karagounis – Midfielder scored the opener against Portugal in the group stage but the Inter Milan star was suspended for the final after picking up too many bookings.
After spells at Benfica and Panathinaikos he landed at Fulham in 2012. Upon his release after relegation two years later he retired from the game.
Otto Rehhagel – The mastermind stayed on after Euro 2004 as manager, but Greece failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, lost every game trying to defend their trophy at Euro 2008 and then exited the 2010 World Cup at the group stage before he resigned.
In the semi-finals, Greece’s Traianos Dellas (5) scored a silver goal in extra-time to help beat Czech Republic 1-0 to set up another meeting with Portugal in a Lisbon final
Czech Republic’s Tomas Rosicky drops to his knees in despair after seeing his side eliminated
As underdogs, Greece should have been the team many neutrals wanted to win. Yet, there was a sense of desperation for them to lose. The chief reason being their style of defensive football had been dull, they were incredibly boring to watch and since the group stage only seemed interested in scoring one goal and shutting up shop.
It made Jose Mourinho tactics look like Total Football – yet it was damn effective, and what nobody could do was deny them the right to play in a style that was winning football matches and putting them on the brink of one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game.
Another reason many wanted Greece to fall short was the desire to see Portugal’s golden generation lift silverware in likely their final opportunity. With young guns like Ronaldo leading an evolution of Portuguese football, it was a last chance for the likes of skipper Fernando Couto and Rui Costa to win a tournament while Figo was also at the end of his peak years (although he would later make the 2006 World Cup at the age of 33).
So in Lisbon at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz, the repeat of the tournament opener took place yet still Portugal were firm favourites despite their 2-1 group stage defeat. The feeling was with Ronaldo starting, Portugal were now playing with their best team and that Greece’s flair killing tactics could not stifle for a third straight game.
Once again Charisteas (left) was on target as he opened the scoring with a header in the final
The Greek forward runs off to celebrate his goal which proved to be the winner in Lisbon
Greece’s shock win over Portugal left Cristiano Ronaldo in tears following the final in Lisbon
Theo Zagorakis lifts the trophy to officially crown Greece as shock winners of Euro 2004
And yet for a third straight game, Greece did just that. Winning 1-0, with their only shot on target just before the hour as Charisteas headed home. In essence it was the story of Greece’s tournament.
The world looked on stunned as captain, man of the match and official player of the tournament Theodoros Zagorakis lifted the trophy to confirm the biggest international shock since at least Euro 92 when Denmark triumphed in Sweden having initially failed to qualify.
Reaction was mixed. Among the Portugal contingent there were tears of devastation from the likes of Ronaldo, as well as anger (or perhaps sour grapes) with striker Pauleta insisting ‘[it was] regrettable that a team that does nothing but defend ends up as European champion.’
The celebrations among Greek fans was, as expected, wild and long into the night… perhaps nights, but it was not just Portugal left bitter from the defeat. Across the continent, the view went as far as suggesting Euro 2004 was a disaster of a tournament because Greece’s almost anti-football approach triumphed over the entertaining purists.
Greece’s European Championship victory will go down as one of football’s biggest ever shocks
The Greek press were united in joy for Greece who stunned the world with their triumph
Tens of thousands of fans wave Greek flags and flares at the Panathenian stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, to welcome back their Greek heroes from Euro 2004
It was hard to disagree with the notion that Greece were incredibly boring to watch, and that the tournament would have had a better and more fitting ending had one of the competition’s more entertaining teams such as Portugal, France, Czech Republic or (and I promise you I am typing this with a straight face) England had triumphed.
Yet, it is hard to begrudge Greece of their victory. They broke no rules, did not resort to cheating and were only guilty of not playing champagne football which would have led to them probably going home with zero points, a few cricket scores and a summer to forget.
In the age where we have all raged against a European Super League it’s worth remembering the importance of the ultimate underdog like Greece, who are there not just to give the headline teams a punching bag to show off against but to provide competition in the way they see fit.
As well as earning immortal status in their homeland, Greece’s heroes of Euro 2004 will for years to come be the inspiration for many perceived minnows that qualify for a major tournament and dare to dream of going all the way.