There was authority in the way the Greeks scripted the biggest of dramas in the history of the European Championship. Thatís why the most stunning of surprises ó the Euro 2004 odyssey ó doesnít surprise. It makes one sit up in awe.
For Greece to beat Portugal (twice), France and Czech Republic en route to a first major title from nowhere was perhaps even beyond the imagination of the greatest of dramatists. In the end, they did it with some assurance, putting to rest all speculation that this spell was vulnerable to the pressures of playing in the final.
Greece set and controlled the pace of the match, Portugal obeying all the time. The home favourites didnít make a single concerted move into the Greek penalty area, never reached a position from where the goalkeeper would be the only man to beat. True, they missed a powerful striker, but they failed to create a chance because Greece had weeded out all possibilities.
Portugal kept getting out and out of the match as it progressed and the Greeks stuck to their plan with unwavering focus. The plan was chalked out in a cool head and executed in cold-blooded manner. The calmness behind the whole exercise kept one from being surprised ó there is no doubt over who deserved to win on Sunday night.
| Luiz Felipe Scolari consoles Cristiano Ronaldo, who broke down after their defeat to Greece, in Lisbon on Sunday
There is no point in blaming Scolari for this defeat. There was no room for Figo or Ronaldo to run, no space for Deco to manoeuvre and never for a second did the Greeks err in outnumbering the Portuguese inside their own half. The underdogs kept increasing men in such a fashion that it was two versus three, three versus five, four versus seven all the time.
This means each time Portugal brought in an extra player inside the rival half, the Greeks pounced on him with two and the place kept getting crowded as the hosts grew in numbers. Portugal were lost in this maze of legs and didnít have the ammunition to find a way out.
The manner in which Otto Rehhagel weighed the strengths of his players, eliminated the weaknesses, drew a plan, distributed responsibility and drilled into them the virtues of concentration and commitment is unprecedented. It was one-dimensional, but you have to applaud if this no-frill approach gives such stunning results.
Itís amazing how the German taught his players the trick of preserving energy by making them operate over a smaller area. For a majority of the Greeks, the effective length of the pitch was lesser because they didnít venture into a vast part of the pitch. It meant they were not overworked and this showed in the later stages when they charged and challenged Scolariís players with added zest.
Another secret of the Greek success was their strength at the back. The goalkeeper showed great understanding with the defenders which was reflected in the fact that there was rarely a shot on goal from inside the box. Only against the Czechs did the Greeks allow genuine openings. For a team with such emphasis on spoiling, Greece were remarkably clean and faced no problem in terms of cards or free-kicks near the box.
For a team obsessed with defending, Greece created chances and converted them into goals with some consistency, throughout the tournament. These were no fluke, they earned those goals, with some neat and confident finishing. There was no exception in the final, though it has to be said that the Portuguese goalkeeper had no business allowing a header from the tip of the six-yard box from where Haristeas scored.
The hosts lost because they failed to find room in the Greek half. Portugal had two options. They could stay back and invite the Greeks into their own half before making use of the open space in the rival half. Portugal could also have chosen the other extreme and straightway put the opposition under sword as they did against Spain.
Scolari was probably not sure of his defendersí ability to soak up sustained pressure, and he clearly lacked the guns to batter the Greeks into submission. So he had to tread a middle path which helped Greece as they got the chance to set their own pace. They didnít let it slip and this is why the defeat of Portugal against Greece in the Euro 2004 final is no surprise. The sight of Greece as the champions of Europe is perhaps one.