Greece shocked the footballing world in 2004 when they became European Champions in Portugal winning the final against the much fancied hosts.
It was the year that the Olympic Games was to return to its earliest home, but the football team were merely a distraction for the Greek people before the games began. They entered the tournament having never won a game in a major competition before, let alone the entire competition!
Is it possible that lightening could strike twice and that Greece could be about to become the first side ever to successfully defend their title?
The obvious, sensible answer to that question is an emphatic, no. Can we really look beyond Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Holland? People have mentioned Croatia and Gus HiddinkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Russia as decent outside bets but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think I have heard anyone predicting a Greek victory.
Of all the teams in this monthÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tournament Greece have qualified with the best record. Ten wins and twenty-five goals in their twelve qualifying matches suggest that they are a force to be reckoned with. They find themselves in a group with the unpredictable Sweden and Russia and the perennial under achievers of Spain. It is certainly not a group from which they cannot qualify.
In 2004, Greece were ranked thirty fifth in the world and you could have found odds of 100-1 on them winning the tournament. Nobody expected them to beat Portugal in the group stage and qualify at the expense of the then third ranked team in the world, Spain. Holders France were then beaten along with many peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favourites, the Czech Republic and Greece found themselves against Portugal once again. Nobody thought that they could repeat their earlier victory, but they did.
Although deserving of great credit and rightly praised around the world for their achievement, the general feeling about the Greek side at that time was that they had achieved their victory by playing Ã¢â‚¬Ëœugly footballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Sneak a goal and defend for your lives seemed to be the method and 1-0 wins in all the knockout games tended to back up that theory.
It was anticipated that the tournament win would transform Greek football. The corruption in which their domestic game was embroiled and the sickening crowd violence that accompanied so many games, could all be wiped out on the back of this remarkable success. The Greek players would be sought after across the world and would move to the top clubs in Europe.
Sadly for Greek football none of these things materialized. The league title this very season was decided in the court room rather than on the pitch. The top games are played in front of home team support only as the only way of trying to prevent violence. Few if any of the players have gone on to have successful careers outside of Greece. In the current twenty-three man squad there are four players who play in Germany, two in Spain and one in each of England, Portugal and Scotland.
The initial euphoria following the 2004 victory was quickly forgotten as things in the domestic game followed their usual pattern. The players fell out with the Greek football authorities in a row over bonus payments and the national team lost its next game, a world cup qualifier against Albania. In fact, Greece went on to finish fourth in that qualifying group and failed to reach the finals in Germany.
The campaign to qualify for Euro 2008 was much more positive and Greece go into the tournament ranked by FIFA as the eighth best team in the world, above Holland and Portugal. They are still led by German coach Otto Rehhagel and seven of the victorious 2004 squad will be with them again in Austria and Switzerland.
We are promised that this Greek team will be more attack minded and adventurous than the one in 2004, but I would expect them to still play very careful percentage football. They canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford to try to take on the likes of Spain in an open free flowing game as they do not have the same quality of player. If they are to win these games it will be through hard work and organisation.
I have to say that Greece are very unlikely to repeat their historic achievements from 2004, but you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find any bookmakers giving you odds of 100-1 this time. The rest of Europe will be ready for Greece this time and the surprise element of 2004 wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be there. I suspect that they will not qualify out of their group but if they do manage to do so and make it to the quarter-finals, then they will have every chance of going all the way. Lightening has struck twice in the same place before.
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