Charisteas strikes for Greece to break host nation's heart

Greece 1 Charisteas 56 Portugal 0 Half-time: 0-0 Att: 62,865
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The Independent Football

"In ancient Greece there were 12 gods. In modern Greece there are 11." When a Portuguese signwriter was commissioned to paint that legend on the side of Greece's Euro 2004 team bus he must have suppressed a chuckle. He was not laughing last night. The smile left this friendliest of host nations when Angelos Charisteas headed Greece into the lead after 57 minutes and it will be many months before it returns.

Greece, the most improbable winners of any major competition since, well, ancient times perhaps, completed a triumph which will earn a prominent and richly deserved place in the already well-stocked annals of Hellenic mythology. For the Portuguese the festa de futebol has become just another sob story for the singers of fado.

The victors were the first virgin winners of either of football's two major competitions since Denmark lifted the European Championship a dozen years prior. Indeed, neither side had even been in a final before.

If that meant the match lacked the glamour more established countries bring to such occasions, the enthusiasm of both sets of supporters more than compensated. The Greeks had gathered at the stadium earliest but the host nation's love affair with their team was illustrated by the journey from their training camp at Alcochete. Thousands of supporters had stood at the roadside as their bus, emblazoned with the logo "Boldness and Emotion", rolled through the barren Setubal countryside. When it turned onto the motorway, it was given an honour guard of hundreds of motorcyclists. When it reached the 13km Vasco da Gama Bridge over the Tagus estuary, a flotilla of motorboats set off from the southern shore shadowing the bus as it headed towards the capital.

One wondered what impact this outpouring of hope and expectation would have on the 11 men who took the field. Against unheralded Greece, Portugal carried the burden of favourites as well that of hosts.

One man will have appreciated this more than most. Pauleta has had a miserable tournament and few Portuguese would have continued to select him ahead of Nuno Gomes, whose home ground this is. But Luiz Felipe Scolari kept faith with the Paris-St-Germain striker despite his spurning several chances against the Dutch.

Portugal were otherwise as expected, as were the Greeks for whom Stelios Giannakopoulos came in for the suspended Georgios Karagounis. As forecast Konstantinos Katsouranis sat deep in midfield to mark Deco, but the Greece coach, Otto Rehhagel, had made no special plans for Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, and they were simply picked up by the relevant full-back.

Captain Theo Zagorakis was winning his 95th cap, equalling the Greek record, and he had quickly to use all his experience to make a brave tackle on Pauleta in the box. He then clashed with Maniche Ribeiro as the Greeks struggled to restrain a vibrant Portuguese opening. During this period Miguel Monteiro, having been released by Ronaldo's header, brought a full-length save from Antonios Nikopolidis with his low drive.

As against the Czechs in the semi-final, Greece gradually settled and began to play some neat passing moves of their own. Though primarily defensive in outlook, Greece push their full-backs forward at every opportunity and, after 16 minutes Giourkas Seitaridis broke down the right before rolling a cross which Zisis Vrysas delicately flicked behind the Portuguese defence. The ball was worked across to Charisteas, and Ricardo Oliveira had to come sharply from his goal to deny the Bundesliga-based striker. Though Maniche shot wide following a half-cleared corner, clear chances remained scant, but there was much good play notably from Traianos Dellas and Ronaldo.

It was shaping to be one of those matches which, though intriguing to watch from a technical point of view (and, because of the impressive and effervescent Greek support, enjoyable to be at), was probably not the most absorbing of contests for the television spectator. It needed a goal and, 11 minutes into the second period, Greece provided one of the simplest of the tournament. Angelis Basinas delivered a corner from the right and Charisteas, poorly marked, rose to head his third goal of the campaign.

Greece, with their diligent and well-populated defence, are not a team to concede to. Soon they were leaving just Vrysas in attack and pulling everyone behind the ball. Portugal had come back when England did the same in the quarter-final, now they would have to repeat the trick.

Scolari started by duplicating the process that undid England, bringing on Rui Costa. The tireless Ronaldo and less influential Figo both brought saves from Nikopolidis as Portugal pressed, but they had to be careful. On one counter-attack Zagorakis and Konstantinos would have set up Vrysas but for a fine tackle by Ricardo Carvalho.

At last Gomes arrived, doubtless hoping to find a Greek bearing gifts in advance of his 28th birthday today. The crowd were lifted and so were the team, Ronaldo going close after running on to a long ball.

A pitch invader, who threw a Barcelona flag at Figo then entangled himself in the net, provided a reminder of how deep Iberian passions can run and maybe stirred the old maestro into one last effort. Taking a neat pass from Gomes in the congested penalty box he twisted and shot. The ball, deflected, rolled agonisingly wide.

Their last hope had gone and within minutes Eusebio, with tears in his eyes, was presenting the trophy to Zagorakis not Figo.