The 2004 European Championship was a tournament full of surprises, and the first surprise was in the opening match where the underdogs of Greece defeated the Portuguese hosts and favourites. Greece had qualified for only their second European championship. The German Otto Reghagel had been coaching the team since 2001, and had with time built a solid disciplined side that qualified ahead of Spain. Still, nobody expected much from the side, who counted mostly with players from the Greek sides Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and AEK Athens. However, they were all experienced players who had all played European Champions league at highest level, and they were complemented by some other players plying their trade in Italy, Spain and Portugal. The captain of the side was Theodoros Zagorakis from AEK Athens, who would also be named player of the tournament. Among the experienced players that would be household names after the tournament were AS Roma's Traianos Dellas, Benfica's Takis Fyssas, Bolton's Stelios Giannakopulous, Inter's Giorgios Karagounis, and Panathinaikos' Giourkas Seitaridis and Angelos Basinas. Up front Werder Bremen's Angelos Charisteas, Atletico Madrid's Demis Nikolaidis and Fiorentina's Zisis Vryzas were among Reghagel's choices.
Surely not a team to be underestimated, and the Greeks showed it in the opening match winning 1-2 on goals by Karagounis and Basinas. Spain, who had lost at home to Greece in qualification, tied Greece 1-1 and even though losing 1-2 to Russia in their last group match, Greece was in the quarterfinals. Nobody expected much from them as they faced the defending champions of France, but against all odds Greece won 0-1, and continued their sensational run winning 0-1 over the Czech Republic in the semi-finals. It was becoming a fairy tale tournament for Greece who would now face the hosts of Portugal in the final, in what was a repeat of the opening match.
It was impossible to question the dedication and commitment of the Greek team, but they were not overly popular due to their defensive style, defeating teams with a much more entertaining style. So waters were divided among neutral fans before the final, which Portugal, in spite of their opening match defeat, were still favourites to win.
As hosts the Portuguese had not played qualification. But the team had certainly been favourite for the title all the time. They were managed by the 2002 World Cup winning coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, and counted some of the best players in the world at the time. The team counted some fantastic playyers from the FC Porto side that won the UEFA Champions League earlier in the year, such as Paulo Ferreiro, Costinha, Nuno Valente, Maniche, and the Brazilian-born playmaker Deco. The experienced captain was Lazio's Fernando Couto, and other experienced players were Pauleta from Paris St. Germain, Rui Costa from AC Milan, and most famous of all, the legendary Luis Figo from Real Madrid, who was to retire from the national team after the tournament. The squad also counted one of the most prolific young talents in the world, a 19-year old Cristiano Ronaldo.
This amazing Portuguese side nevertheless suffered from a certain lack of confidence and arrogance. In the 2002 World Cup, also entering as favourites, they had been eliminated in the first round, famously losing their opening match 2-3 to the USA in what the Portuguese had clearly thought would be a walkover. The side had learned from the mistakes, and had in spite of their initial loss to Greece been able to shake of the defeat by winning over Spain and Russia in the following two matches. The quarterfinal was a thrilling penalty win over England before winning 2-1 over the Netherlands in the semi-final. The side had found its confidence before the final, but at the same time there lingered a doubt about whether they could truly do it. But logically it did not seem possible that little Greece should be able to defeat Portugal twice in their home ground over a few weeks time!
First half was tight, with chances to both sides, with Deco, Ronaldo and Pauleta combining well but unable to break the organized Greek defense. The Greeks could be dangerous at counter-attack, but understanding that from the previous matches, the Portuguese defense was much more aware and with little compromise in tackling the ball away from the Greeks. Pauleta had not scored a single goal in the tournament and his lack of confidence only seemed to increase as the match advanced.
Although far outnumbered, the Greek fans were heard in the stadium, and in the 57th minute more so as Greece took the lead. Angelo Basinas took a corner kick where Angelos Charisteas surged over the Portuguese defense to head in the goal. With more than half an hour to go Portugal now had to push forward for a goal against a team that hardly let them in. Nuno Gomes came in for the feeble Pauleta and Rui Costa for Costinha. Rui Costa, Ronaldo and Luis Figo all had good shots, but the few times the Greek defense let a Portuguese shot through, the Panathinaikos goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis was proving a strong last bastion against the Portuguese. As the Portuguese lunched forward, Zisis Vryzas even had an opening for a second for Greece, Ricardo Carvalho saved in the Portuguese defense.
In the end all Portuguese attempt were for nothing as Greece could proclaim themselves champions of Europe against all odds. After the match Greek players seemed more awestruck, not believing that they had actually won. Together with Denmark's 1992 victory this was surely the biggest upset in European Championship history.
In the meantime, Portugal are still awaiting their first title.
Lisbon, 4th July 2004, Estadio da Luz
Referee: Markus Merk, Germany
Portugal: Ricardo; Jorge Andrade, Costinha (Rui Costa, 60), Luis Figo (c ), Pauleta (Nuno Gomes, 74), Miguel (Paulo Ferreira, 43), Nuno Valente, Ricardo Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Maniche, Deco. Coach: Luis Felipe Scolari
Greece: Antonis Nikopolidis; Giourkas Seitaridis, Traianos Dellas, Angelos Basinas, Theodoros. Zagorakis (c ), Stelios Giannakopoulos (Stelios Venetidis, 76), Angelos Charisteas, Takis Fyssas, Zisis Vryzas (Dimitris Papadopoulos, 81), Michalis Kapsis, Kostas Katsouranis. Coach: Otto Renhagel
0-1 Angelos Charisteas (57)