Greece are through to the final of Euro 2004 after defeating the favourites the Czech Republic 1-0 by virtue of a Silver Goal scored in the first period of extra-time.
Their achievement will rank as one of the greatest upsets in the history of the game. Before the tournament, Greece were regarded as cannon fodder for the likes of Spain and Portugal in Group A, but since their opening day victory over the hosts, a momentum has been building within Otto Rehhagel’s team. They now go on to meet Portugal for a second time in Sunday’s final, but this time on equal terms.
Traiano Dellas was the hero of the hour, or perhaps more accurately, two hours, heading in an inswinging corner from close range to spark wild celebrations among the estimated 12,000 Greek supporters in the ground.
There was little sign of the drama to come in a cagey opening half. The Czechs had begun brightly with Rosicky hitting the bar with a fizzing volley and and Jankulowski came close on a couple of occasions, only to be foiled by Nikopolidis.
Arguably the turning point of the game came midway through the first half when Czech captain Pavel Nedved injured his knee in an accidental clash. Although Nedved tried to carry on, it was clear he was struggling and reluctantly, coach Karel Bruckner summoned Vladimir Smicer as a replacement.
Greece, though offering little in the way of an attacking threat, were producing a compact organised display. The midfield trio comprising Karagounis, Zagorakis and Basinas, worked overtime to deny space to the likes of Poborsky and Rosicky, while at the back, Seitaridis performed admirably in subduing the threat of the tournament’s leading scorer Milan Baros.
After the break, the Czechs attempted to impose themselves on their opponents but other than deft lob from Poborsky which drifted wide of the far post, the Greek goal rarely came under threat.
The best chance of the game fell to Koller 12 minutes from time after he exchanged passes with the sprightly Rosicky, but the towering striker poked his effort wide. Five minutes later Baros fired wide with a left foot shot, but as full time approached the stalemate remained.
Despite spending much of the preceding 45 minutes on the back foot, Greece began extra time in lively fashion. Substitute Giannakopoulos brought a smart save from Cec and Dellas squandered a marvellous opportunity when he headed straight at the Czech keeper.
However, this was to prove to be a temporary reprieve for the Czechs. With seconds remaining in extra-time, Dellas appeared unmarked at the near post to head home. Shortly afterwards, Pierluigi Collina, refereeing his last international match, blew the final whistle.
The Czech players looked stunned as well they might, given the sudden death nature of their loss. They had given so much to the tournament and perhaps did not deserve to lose in such a cruel fashion. The loss of Nedved may well have been critical. Without his drive Bruckner’s side lacked the momentum to put the Greeks under sustained periods of pressure.
For Greece, the dream continues. Much credit must go to coach Otto Rehhagel, who has created a team which has become fiendishly difficult to beat. Despite beating Portugal in their opening match, they will go into Sunday’s game as underdogs but on the evidence of the last three weeks, that is the way they like it.
Greece 1-0 Czech Republic
Greece:Traiano Dellas 105
Full time: 0-0
Greece:1–Antonis Nikopolidis; 2-Yourkas Seitaridis, 19-Michalis Kapsis, 5-Traianos Dellas, 14-Takis Fyssas; 6-Angelos Basinas (8-Stelios Giannakopoulos 72), 21-Costas Katsouranis, 7-Theodoros Zagorakis; 15-Zisis Vryzas (10-Vassilis Tsartas 91), 9-Angelos Haristeas, 20-Giorgos Karagounis.
Portugal: 1-Petr Cech; 2-Zdenek Grygera, 21-Tomas Ujfalusi, 5-Rene Bolf, 6-Marek Jankulovski; 8-Karel Poborsky, 4-Tomas Galasek, 10-Tomas Rosicky, 11-Pavel Nedved (7-Vladimir Smicer 40); 15-Milan Baros, 9-Jan Koller.
Referee: Pierluigi Collina (Italy)