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Best of Karagounis' Greece career


Positivity for Greece in wake of exit


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Five Aside

The best of Karagounis' Greece career

After more than a decade of service to his Greece -- and with 139 senior caps to his name -- Giorgos Karagounis has officially retired from international football.

The Euro 2004-winner has played in England, Italy and Portugal during a long and successful career. But it is his contributions in the blue and white colours of his country that will always be most fondly remembered by Greek fans.

In no particular order, here are five of his most memorable moments for Greece.

1. 1998 U-21 European champioship

In so many interviews Karagounis has spoken fondly of his time as a Greek youth international. It was as a teenager that a long love affair with the national team began for the Pyrgos-born footballer, and in 1998 he first made his name.

At the U-21 European championship in Romania he captained his country, leading them into a final against Spain. Alhough they lost that game 1-0, Karagounis was one of the stars of the tournament, scoring a winner in the quarterfinal win over Germany.

The importance of that period in Karagounis' career can't be understated, with Euro 2004 teammates including Angelos Basinas and Traianos Dellas part of the squad that lost to Spain. Barely six years later, they would go one step further and write themselves into history in Portugal.

2. Euro 2004

Who can forget Karagounis' opening goal at the 2004 European championship? Pouncing on the ball in the Portuguese half, he strode forward and lashed a low effort into the bottom corner of the net from outside the box. From that point on, the Greeks began to believe.

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Beyond that wonderful goal, his boundless energy and drive in midfield were the perfect compliment to his captain Theodoros Zagorakis. It says so much about the importance of Karagounis during that tournament that in the two games he was suspended, Greece were not at their best (against Russia in the group stages and in a nervy final with Portugal).

3. Greece 1-0 Russia, Euro 2012

After Euro 2004, the Greek national team failed to emerge from the group stages of a major international tournament. The Greeks didn't even qualify for the 2006 World Cup, and successive failures at Euro 2008 and South Africa 2010 cemented the nation's disappointment, especially in light of what had been achieved only a few years earlier.

In that respect, Karagounis' winning goal against Russia during Euro 2012 is such an important one. The victory earned Greece some admiration and likeability, both of which had waned in view of the disastrous campaigns mentioned above.

A battling performance against the Russians allowed Greece to perform an incredible escape act, setting up a quarterfinal showdown with Germany. Karagounis would miss that match through suspension and his emotionally distraught reaction to being yellow-carded against Russia is an endearing image of that tournament. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve.

4. Becoming Greece's most capped player

On 12 October 2012, Giorgos Karagounis surpassed Zagorakis' record of 120 international appearances for Greece. The record was broken as the former Panathinaikos midfielder made his entry onto the pitch in Piraeus as a second-half substitute, during a World Cup qualifier with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Giorgos Karagounis capped a glittering international career for Greece at the World Cup.

The occasion wasn't soured by the fact that he did so at the home of Panathinaikos' arch-rivals Olympiacos, or that Greece were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw despite his efforts. Karagounis was confirmed as a legend that day, and neutrals, commentators and fans applauded his long-standing contribution.

Having made his senior international debut against El Salvador back in 1999, Karagounis said at the time that he "could hardly have dreamed" what would follow that first cap.

"It's not the number itself that matters but what I have achieved in those years [since my debut]" he said. "I am so proud."

5. Brazil 2014

For Brazil to be the theatre in which Karagounis ended his career is fitting. There are few international players still around with the longevity of the former Fulham midfielder and despite his age, he was again able to make history with his country as they progressed to the knockout stages for the first time.

Karagounis started on the bench for the first two games of the World Cup, as Greece lost to Colombia and then struggled to a goalless draw with Japan. His return to the starting lineup coincided with a famous 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast, where the 37-year-old hit the crossbar and was denied what would have been an emotional goal.

It is a shame for the player to have had to suffer such a bitter penalty defeat with his teammates against Costa Rica. But Karagounis was a class act until the end, leading by example both on and off the pitch and embodying his country's spirit through football.