Portugal 0-1 Greece

I've been thinking for five minutes on how to even start this, and........I just don't know. I don't know how to process this information right now. I don't mean that in a bad way. What I mean is that this is one of the most gloriously dumbfounding results in soccer history. It's a shock without being a fluke. It's rocked the foundations of the game, but it won't change much about how the game is played (don't listen to people who say we're going to go back to the endless 0-0 days because a defensive team won a tournament). I feel bad for Portugal for losing on their home soil, but, then again, they did have their top club team dive and cheat their way towards winning both major European club tournaments in the last two seasons. So, I don't feel SO bad for the Portugeuse people (however, as for their players, the Golden Genereation has still won fuck all internationally, which is kind of sad in a way). That said, I'm delightfully ecstatic for Greece, its people and the players and staff. Look back at the horror show their 1994 World Cup side was...look back at the fact that they had never won a single match in any of the major tournaments that they had qualified for...absolutely stunning.

By the way, their road to the Euro 2004 Final:

Euro Qualifying, Group Six:

Greece 0-2 Spain
Ukraine 2-0 Greece
Greece 2-0 Armenia
Northern Ireland 0-2 Greece
Spain 0-1 Greece
Greece 1-0 Ukraine
Armenia 0-1 Greece
Greece 1-0 Northern Ireland

Somewhat of a joke group, to be fair. UEFA doesn't really seed for these things outside of the top team in each group, so sometimes you get a group with three strong teams, and sometimes you get Spain and Some Countries. That said, the Ukraine isn't THAT bad of a side, and they should have won second place. However, to come back from an 0-2 start...you can't say Greece fluked their way in. It's not their fault they were given a bunch of cupcakes (Northern Ireland and Armenia are SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITE)...and, they beat Spain on their home soil, got the huge win over the Ukraine at home, and then won all the games they were supposed to win. For Spain's part, they got a draw in the Ukraine (which is about right), but then could only draw 0-0 with Northern Ireland, handing the group to Greece.

Euro 2004 1st Round

Portugal 1-2 Greece
Greece 1-1 Spain
Russia 2-1 Greece

The first result was the major one, as they beat the host nation right off the bat. Not only must that have been vital in terms of giving them the self-belief that is so important for a nation like them in a tournament like this (Latvia too, to a lesser extent), but that ended up forcing Portugal into giving it everything against Spain. The draw against Spain was a perfectly acceptable result, and once they had semi-comnquered the Iberian Peninsula, the Russia match ended up being a complete throwaway -- they were already into thw Quarterfinal. Offhand, that's also going to make the Russians look better than they had any right to be. They're fine when they're qualifying for something (they always seem to get bullshit groups though), but once they actually get there, they suck like few other nations can. That said, Greece were through as runners-up in the group, though if they needed to beat Russia, I believe they would have.


France 0-1 Greece


Greece 1-0 Czech Republic


Portugal 0-1 Greece

Ahh, now to the crux of the matter -- three consecutive 1-0 wins over most likely three of the best four of five teams in Europe as it stands these days. Some may look at this as a fluke, and in technical terms, it is. No nation like Greece is going to pull this off 2 times out of a 1000, let alone 100. However, they didn't trip and fall onto the trophy, either. They came in with a system, one that will give them at least a chance of victory every time out. They held together defensively as much as possible, and then smartly counter-attacked when the chance presented itself. Well done to them for executing it well, and especially well done to goalkeeper Nikopolidis and fullback Dellas, who most likely won themselves high-profile transfers to big teams...if not this summer, then definitely in the January transfer window. However, their way is a tightrope, and not exactly the Grand Scheme For Minnows To Win Major Soccer Tournaments For All Eternity, as some are already expressing their fears about. If Nikopolidis or Dellas had one bad game, they're gone. If one hyperactive referee red-carded someone, they're gone. If a shot bounced off a post and in instead of off a post and out, they're gone. If the Czechs had held on for 16 more minutes, then who knows (penalties are a crapshoot and the worst way to end a match ever)...they're probably gone there, too.

However, I again stress that this isn't a fluke run. Normally, when a country of Greece's size goes on deep into a tournament, it's often thanks to a beneficial draw. That obviously wasn't the case here, as they pretty much had to take on a who's who of European football along the way. Also, when they were given their one or two chances to put the ball into the net, they did. The funny thing is, most of their goals were the kind of thing you'd be much more likely to see on an instructional video rather than a highlights one. Good build-up play, out to the winger, perfect cross to the unmarked guy, picture-perfect header. That's how they got the winner in the final, as well as the semifinal.

All of this said, Greece were the best side in the tournament, and within the span of this fortnight, absolutely deserving winners. International tournaments are a small sample size by nature, and thus luck has a bigger-than-average part to play in at all. But, nobody has ever lucked their way through an entire tournament...those who live on luck alone often end up dying by luck around the quarterfinals or so. Likewise, you also can't win on will and spirit alone...otherwise, this would have been a Greece-Latvia final. Somewhere along the way, you have to have a degree of skill and talent as well. Ahh, but you can't have just that either, or you'll have a few tournaments like France has just had. Whoever plays their system the best (be it offensive, defensive, direct...shit, anything other than long ball [Hi, England!]...I'm convinced it doesn't matter what you play as long as you play it well), is not *guaranteed* to win, but they most certainly have the best chance to win.

All Hail Greece, the 2004 Champions of Europe!!!


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