Monday, July 05, 2004

They Did It!


They beat the hosts (Portugal)...twice. They beat the holders (France). They beat the form team (Czech Republic). They had never won a single match in their two previous dismal appearances in a major tournament. They entered with 100-1 odds.

They were Greece and we all knew it. We all scoffed at it.

And their names are still least for now.

The Greeks pulled off what has to be the biggest upset in the history of the EURO finals, toppling host Portugal 1-0 and offering hope to underdogs everywhere. Nobody expected it. Nobody but the Greeks truly wanted it.

Yet, the Greeks did it, truly completing the fairy tale that, more often than not, comes up short. The world is theirs. The Olympics come soon, 40 days to be exact. Maybe 39. 38?

Prepararions go well. No doubt!

Vilanova over Georgetown. The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Joe Namath's Jets. Lyle Lovett marrying Julia Roberts. Americans may not know it, but the Greeks' unexpected romp through the EURO 2004 championships ranks among the greatest upsets of all time.

Had Greece merely advanced from the first round, pundits would have been shocked and Greek fans would have been esctatic. They would have been applauded. Yet the Greeks opened with a soon-to-be-prophetic 1-0 win over the hosts, Portugal, and never stopped to think, or look back. They were unconscious.

They were the Greeks and nobody knew it.

They managed to reach the knockout stage, where an impenetrable defense would keep a clean slate the rest of the way. France, and all its stars, was disopsed of. The Czechs? Pavel Nedved was removed from the game, and one mere, spectacularly late, goal would suffice.

The hosts? Portugal? The Portuguese would be defeated twice in their crowning stadium.

Why did nobody see this coming?

Greece's U-21s were the 1998 European runner-ups. The stars of that team, many present today, are in their prime. Maybe that was forgotten.

The Greeks, at the senior level, had a two-year nearly unblemished record heading into EURO 2004. Maybe that was forgotten.

Now it will be remembered always. Nobody forgets greatness.

Coach Otto Rahhagel could very well be headed back to his native Germany to serve as the possible saviour of the struggling German national team, but he will be hard-pressed to ever reach such extreme heights after Sunday. Props to Rahhagel for organizing a team that was so much more than the sum of its parts.

Very few of the Greek players for major European clubs, and those who do have had difficulty finding playing time. Greece has no multi-million dollar stars, no household names, no history, and no pedigree.

All the Greeks had at EURO 2004 was eachother, and un unbreakable will to win. It was beautiful to watch.

For Luis Figo, Rui Costa and the rest of Portugal's "Golden Generation", it must have always been destined to all end in disappointment. After winning Under-21 world titles in 1989 aand 1991, their success has never been duplicated at the senior level, no matter how often it was predicted, nay expected.

Sunday, however, proved to be their greatest failure to appease their unquestioned talent. They were on home soil, facing an ultimate underdog, with the eyes of the world watching. This was to be their moment, the glorious culmination to many years of frustration.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Figo and Co. are now old men in terms of their careers. Their time has come and it has gone, expected championships nowhere to be found.

For the Portuguese, at least, the likes of youngsters such as Ronaldo, Maniche and Deco proved to be their true stalwarts in this tournament. Perhaps, unsaddled by the massive hopes that ultimately crushed the 'Golden Generation", they can accomplish things their fading mentors never could.


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