They deserve every bit of it

Whatever be their past records, Portugal and Greece have proved their worth. Greece's showing in the championship was a revelation and Portugal, which regrouped itself in time, rose to the occasion, to the delight of home supporters, writes S. R. SURYANARAYAN.

COMPETITION that many expected would portray the fascinating swing of balance, the Euro 2004 certainly moved into the realm of fantasy in Portugal. Call it destiny, or luck, none would have imagined the event to conclude the way it began, involving the same two nations — Greece and Portugal — in the summit clash!

Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (right) is quite elated, even as some of the Portugal players celebrate after the team made it to the final. -- Pic. AP-

For Greece and Portugal, it was an incredible path to the final, as the predictions went topsy-turvy and the giants fell by the wayside.

It is said cricket is a game of `glorious uncertainties'. Probably football too qualifies for that cliche. When the Euro 2004 started, the focus was on superstars such as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Francisco Totti, Christian Vieri, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Henrik Larsson. There were not many takers for the host Portugal and Greece.

But in the end, stalwarts vanished like shooting stars and new names, such as Angelos Cheristeas, Traianos Dellas, Antonis Nikopolidis, Georgios Karagounis and Kostatinos Katsouranis, appeared on the horizon.

At least Portugal, which has never been in a major tournament final, had some players of repute in its ranks, such as Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rui Costa and Nunes Gomes. But of Greece, none of those tongue-twisting names came to one's mind when the championship began. This was the third appearance for Greece in the championship and the country had never won even a game in a major tournament. Few then had fancied this team to make waves in Euro 2004. But one can't forget Greece's performance in the qualifying round where it topped, ahead of Spain and Ukraine.

Greeks are over the moon after their victory over Czech Republic in the semifinal. The German coach Otto Rehhagel (left) has done wonders to the team. -- Pic. AFP-

The German coach Otto Rehhagel has done wonders and the team performed in unison. France first and then Czech came a cropper against this underdog. They were unable to break the rock like defence of Greece. Further, the teams failed to read the swift counter attacks of Greece.

Whatever be their past records, Portugal and Greece have proved their worth. Greece's showing in the championship was a revelation and Portugal, which regrouped itself in time, rose to the occasion, to the delight of home supporters.

Figo's team, Portugal, which knocked out England in the quarterfinals, was an inspired bunch under the tutelage of Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, who is a well-known coach for his strategy. The talented Ronaldo was in his element, especially against Holland in the semifinal. A big name already in English Premier League with Manchester United, Ronaldo, with his ball control and speed, was the pick of the Euro 2004. And then his team-mate Maniche produced a gem of a goal, against Holland. It was breathtaking curling 30-yard shot that stunned the Netherlands.

Czech had in its ranks the championship's top-scorer Milan Baros, who lived up to the expectation of his coach Karel Brucknor. But against Greece, Baros's efforts came to naught, such was Greece's defence. But his two-goals against Denmark were outstanding. The Greek's tackle undid the team's celebrated Pavel Nedved, European Player of the Year, too.

`Cometh the hour, cometh the man', has been Greece's mantra which had a dream run in the championship. It was no different at Porto in the semifinal against Czech where the match was heading towards penalties. Then came the unheralded Traianos Dellas, hiding in the rival defence, to slip in a header for his first goal in the championship. "Divine intervention", believes Dellas. "Sustaining a dream", thinks his colleague Stelios Giannakopoulos. What ever it is, Greece and Portugal won the hearts of soccer fans world over.