Remember Greece’s Euro glory? Year of the underdog promises France thrills
Holly Thackeray | May 29, 2016
Greece showed Euro glory attainable for outsiders
As Euro 2016 grows ever closer, Coral can’t help but cast a nostalgic eye back to help inform what could occur in France this summer. So, it’s Greece’s turn today as, though the Mediterranean outfit did not reach the finals this time around, they are responsible for one of it’s greatest ever shocks.
It has been a crazy year for football, with Leicester City living the fairytale of lifting the Premier League as rank outsiders that had been on the brink of relegation the previous year, Crystal Palace reaching the FA Cup final, Villarreal punching above their weight in La Liga and Sparta Prague reaching the latter stages of the Europa League among other anomalies.
So Coral look back at Greece’s unlikely ascent in Euro 2004, and the trends before and after for outside teams’ triumphs, to help contemplate whether any of the so-called underdogs in 2016 can make waves…
The Pirate Ship’s voyage to trophy treasure
Euro 2004 was quite the ride and certainly registers among the greatest international sporting shocks of all time, as the spirited southeastern European side scrapped their way to the showpiece finale in Lisbon to play none other than tournament hosts Portugal, who were favourites to dominate in the duel with household heroes Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Luis Figo and a young Cristiano Ronaldo on their roster.
On the path to the Portuguese capital, meanwhile, the Greek’s possessed a pool of, shall we say, cult favourites to be polite as silver-haired keeper Antonios Nikopolidis, former Roma and Sheffield United defender Traianos Dellas, midfield shield Kostas Katsouranis, ex-Leicester player Theodoros Zagorakis and one-time Bolton Wanderers’ attacker Stelios Giannakopoulos all turned out for the Pirate Ship.
If the Navigators’ golden era side was renowned for such intuitive and exciting attacking talents at the peak of their powers such as Deco and Figo, Greece had dug deep to get to the final hurdle, with grit and astoundingly determined defensive performances defining their own best-ever vintage.
They may not have been pretty to watch, but they still captivated the imagination on an unlikely journey. Relive the moments of Greek glory below:
The Hellenic outfit created heroes early on as they pipped later finalist foes Portugal to victory in their opening match, while that and their draw with Spain were signs of things to come, despite defeat to Russia (their only loss of the tournament).
Stout last-ditch Greek defending, plus a brilliant bullet-header from then Werder Bremen forward Angelos Charisteas saw off frustrated upcoming hosts France in the quarter-finals, with the resolute rearguard triumphant by repelling a late swathe of Les Bleus attacks, confirming a place in the final four and fans into a frenzy.
A semi-final dust-up versus Petr Cech’s Czech Republic saw another set-piece in extra-time and silver goal courtesy of Dellas be the dramatic decider in Greek favour, to propel the Pirate Ship to Lisbon to face the Portuguese, who boasted a fervent home backing.
It was here Greece excelled most, however, thriving on the fiery atmosphere to thwart the favourites with yes, another headed goal from Charisteas, and a few fine saves from Nikopolidis.
More than set-piece specialists, it was pure drive and determination that saw Greece lift their first-ever international silverware on the podium, famously leaving prodigy Ronaldo in tears and inspiring scintillating scenes of celebration for the outsiders, and ecstasy back in Athens.
See Charisteas’ decisive goal:
While pundits and critics have since looked back and begrudgingly acknowledged Greek success as one born from defensive smash-and-grab football, there are a fair few teams in France who will hope to emulate. It is after all, the season for shock success.
And, as it happens, putting the FA Cup and its famous giant killings to one side, it is the European Championship that regularly throws up surprises at international level to enthral supporters glued to screens across the continent, awaiting no only some of the finest footballers but also another Greece style rally.
Which Euro outsider is worth a wager?
There will be no Greek blue and white ribbons adorning the coveted cup this summer, but a gaggle of plucky sides have already qualified that can fill the underdog quota English viewers love so much (unless it occurs against them).
Of course, current holders Spain, world champions Germany, hosts France, always thereabouts Italy, and even long suffering England, Portugal and Belgium, lead the outrights. But that doesn’t mean punters can’t hedge their bets by backing an outsider to do well also…
There have already been fireworks on the way to France, which hints that this may truly continue to be the year of the underdog, as all of Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Hungary defied expectations to qualify, while Turkey showed mettle to ensure a best third-placed finish and the Czech Republic pulled no punches as they pipped their rivals to top their pool.
It’s not just Otto Rehhagel’s Greece that have bucked the trend for big name winners before also, if readers take a trip down memory lane for Denmark’s defiance to lift Euro ’92 against heavyweights Germany. So, there’s plenty of incentive to back a dark horse, but what may present finalists have in common with those past surprise sides?
Journey back in time with Denmark:
Dogged defence, determination and a sprinkle of stardust
Greece actually had a lot going for them as we’ve mentioned, and it was their powerful, rangy defence, ruthlessly winning aerial assaults and providing real danger at the opposite end as well that won them the trophy. A true team effort if there ever was one, with organisation and cohesion from front to back. Which teams could bring that to France?
Romania are the side that boast the best defensive record in qualifying, with eight clean sheets and only two goals leaked in 10 before shutting out Spain and holding Italy in friendly fixtures. To turn into a true tournament threat, however, the robust Romanians must start turning draws into wins.
So, Tricolorii and skipper Vlad Chiricheș look wide of the mark at 200/1 to triumph in France, and 11/1 to lead Group A ahead of France, but are a cheeky 3/1 pool straight forecast chance alongside Les Bleus.
For more sides that rely on organisation but could create bigger waves, Wales have shown they will defend to the last to reach their first major tournament in over 50 years, but as well as togetherness also have a bona fide superstar in Gareth Bale, which makes their outright price of 80/1 a lot more appealing.
Turkey (80/1) are another with genuine quality down their spine and a core of Arda Turan and Hakan Calhanoglu, as although they initially struggled to clinch a place France, they clung on and have a history of reaching both Euro and World Cup semi-finals.
Though the Turkish with all their talent are much more in the vein of Denmark’s Euro winning vintage, as thought the Danes had a great goalkeeper in Peter Schmeichel they could also count on the magic of midfielder Brian Laudrup and eight-goal Henrik Larsen.
If it is prestigious post protectors punters are after, there are worse shouts that Cech and his Czech contingent (125/1), though they feature in a tricky group with Turkey, Spain and Croatia (enticing at 22/1).
Another Nordic nation Sweden, however, are 66/1 outside shouts but also contest a perilous looking Pool E containing Italy, Republic of Ireland and Belgium, despite the prowess of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While Iceland protagonist Gylfi Sigurdsson is at least an intriguing 13/2 to see his team top their easier group, if they are even too much of a long shot for true tournament romantics at 125/1 to win the lot.