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 Posted by Chris Paraskevas
Jun 11, 2014

Greece at Euro '04: Ten years on

Angelos Charisteas had a Euro 2004 to remember with winning goals in both the quarterfinal against France and in the final versus Portugal.
Angelos Charisteas had a Euro 2004 to remember with winning goals in both the quarterfinal against France and in the final versus Portugal.

"Lizarazu could have lifted his hand up and nothing would have happened. But everything happened perfectly: the dribble, the cross, the header."

Theos Zagorakis describes his famous assist to Angelos Charisteas in the 1-0 quarterfinal win over France at Euro 2004 on a goal that beat French defender Bixente Lizarazu. Ten years ago, the Greece captain and his teammates were responsible for arguably the biggest upset in the history of football when they would go on to capture the European title in the final over host Portugal.

Denmark at Euro '92 was special, but Greece was a football backwater before that summer. A single goal would have been considered a worthy achievement. Three points, a miracle.

Greece weren't just outsiders; they were nobodies. They once lost 7-1 to the Danes while trying to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Equally unfancied at home as they were unknown abroad, fans had celebrated mere qualification for Euro 2004 as though their country had won the tournament.

What transpired during those magical months of June and July is one of the great modern Greek tales and even overshadowed that summer's hosting of the Olympic Games.

Ten years later, the emotion has (mostly) dissipated, and we can now objectively ask: just what has the legacy of that victory been?

There are two answers to this question.

The first is that Euro 2004 has changed the face of Greek football, perhaps permanently. Greece now have an array of talented players, such as Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Kostas Mitroglou, earning a living in Europe's top leagues. This trend is set to continue, with scouts around Europe recognizing the potential of Greek talent. (By contrast, the 2004 squad was almost entirely made up of domestic players.)

Off the back of this trend, the national team has become a beacon of consistency and developed a unique identity -- disciplined, organized, competitive and tough. These players are bringing their professionalism and experience to the international arena and performing.

Directly as a result of the 2004 triumph, Greece have consistently ranked in and around FIFA's top 10 over the past decade.

This achievement might be scoffed at by some, but it has had a tangible impact: Greece are almost always seeded as one of Europe's top sides during qualifying, and this has helped them become a regular at major tournaments.

What we are also seeing are the psychological aftereffects of that triumph among the younger generation of players. The new Greek stars grew up watching Euro 2004 and, as a result, are filled with the belief and confidence that they play for a country with football pedigree.

These factors combine to make the job of Greece manager a particularly attractive proposition. The likes of Claudio Ranieri, Juande Ramos and Martin Jol have all been in the frame to replace Fernando Santos after the World Cup; Ranieri is favored to take over.

At the youth level, Greece have also delivered encouraging performances at major tournaments post-Euro 2004. The U17 and U19 sides are well drilled and extremely competitive, mirroring the setup of the senior national team.

Across the board, Euro 2004 has contributed in a number of ways to professionalize the national team and secure its long-term future.

At a domestic level, however, it has left no legacy.

In fact, Greek football has regressed substantially since. Whereas in the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League there were three Greek teams in the group stages, there is now just one.

The standard and professionalism of the Greek Super League has declined to the point where Olympiakos are able to stroll to domestic doubles with minimal effort.

Panathinaikos were previously in such a state of disarray that Giorgos Karagounis refused to return to the club to finish his career. AEK Athens' relegation was farcical, while PAOK has had at least one close brush with administration, as has Aris.

These are big clubs with big histories forced now to scrap for survival. Infrastructure at these institutions is poor. The less said about the other Greek clubs, the better.

The situation is perhaps understandable given the country's economic problems. How can football be expected to thrive against such a backdrop?

However, Karagounis in recent interviews has lamented the lack of progress made in the game's administration in Greece. Quite simply, the systems were not put in place to immediately take advantage of the Euro 2004 triumph and the financial struggles of the state are not solely to blame for the situation.

Self-serving administrators, widespread corruption and a general lack of professionalism have conspired to cripple the Greek game.

In an ironic twist of fate, the national team seems set to profit in a way from this situation. The best Greek talents are moving abroad at an even earlier age to develop their careers, and they will benefit immensely.

But now, 10 years later, lightning won't strike twice. There is no Zagorakis, no Lizarazu and no Charisteas, no perfect confluence of events that will lead to Greece winning the World Cup in Brazil.

To truly excel and reach the next level, Greek football needs a revolution domestically to support the unprecedented improvement of the national team.