The prospects of the Olympic Games sites being ready on time sharply diminished last night as Traianos Dellas launched three days of celebrations across the Pan-Hellenic world.
Even before the defender's extra-time silver goal stunned the Czech Republic there could hardly be a man, woman or child in Athens who was concentrating on their work rather than following their footballers' incredible march through Euro 2004. Now every Greek from Melbourne to north London will be trying to find a way to be at the Estadio da Luz for Sunday's final.
Their opponents will be Portugal who Greece defeated in the tournament's opening game. If that victory was unexpected their subsequent progress has been nothing short of astonishing. Greece had never won a game in a major finals before this tournament and only Latvia were quoted longer than their 100-1 odds.
South Korea and Turkey surprised everyone in reaching the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup but Greece have gone all the way to the climax. It is arguably the most unlikely run in modern times, more improbable than Denmark's 1992 European Championship triumph, this season's Champions' League campaigns of Porto and Monaco or, given they faced no serious opposition, Millwall's appearance in this year's FA Cup Final.
Greece's only disappointment is that Georgios Karagounis is suspended for the final having been booked for the fourth time in as many games.
The Greek team has few stars certainly their faces are not jostling for position with David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Luis Figo et al in the advertisments and advertising hoardings which decorate this tournament.
Dellas had a unremarkable two years with Sheffield United in the late 1990s; the only current Premiership player is Stelios Giannakopoulos, a popular but far from central figure for Bolton Wanderers; none of the team have made the later stages of European club competition.
They are, though, very well organised and full of self-belief. Much of this is rightly attributed to Otto Rehhagel, their veteran German manager, but the players deserve all the credit coming their way. Typical of them is Georgios Seitaridis. He has been signed by Porto, for £4m, to replace Chelsea-bound Paulo Ferreira. If Chelsea, who have paid £13.2m, are to get the better of this deal Ferreira must be some player.
Having marked Thierry Henry in the quarter-final, Seitaridis was last night given the task of shadowing Milan Baros, the Liverpool forward who, barring a freak individual feat in the final, will be the tournament's top scorer. Baros escaped just twice in two hours. Once Seitaridis fouled him outside the area and was booked, on the other occasion Baros was crowded out and shot wide.
This was not what anyone expected. The Czechs had come into this fixture after nine competitive victories on the bounce, with at least two goals scored in each. They looked supremely confident but suffered a blow when Pavel Nedved, the European Footballer of the Year, limped off after 37 minutes.
Nedved had been fouled as early as the second minute when Konstantinos Katsouranis, his marker, clumped him. They nearly suffered appropriate punishment as Jan Koller nodded on Marek Jankulovski's free-kick and Tomas Rosicky dipped a superb 20-yard volley onto the bar.
With Greece taking their time to adopt a man-marking system which also had Mihalis Kapsis picking up Jan Koller, the talented Czech midfield were able run through them at will. But after Antonios Nikopolidis saved Jankulovski's close-range shot they settled.
Angelos Basinas and Theo Zagorakis gradually gained parity in midfield and, when they applied pressure, it became clear the Czech defence lacked the quality of its midfield and attack. Though a Karagounis free-kick caused no alarm to Peter Cech, Chelsea's new goalkeeper looked unconvincing when he scrambled away a dangerous cross by Panagiotis Fyssas after 28 minutes. Nikopolidis looked far more secure four minutes later as he beat away a fierce Jankulovski shot following Rosicky's cross.
Jankulovski then burst forward, dribbling past two tackles, and tried a 30-yard chip which dropped onto the roof of the net.
Clear chances remained rare, though Koller and Baros somehow contrived to fluff one on the hour when Nikolaidis missed Karel Poborsky's flighted corner. Though Rosicky also shot wide after a Czech counter-attack, and Poborsky went close with an intuitive chip, the Czechs were never in full control. Cech had to be well-placed to gather a Zisis Vryzas header and was grateful when the striker put another chance over after 75 minutes. Rosicky then brought the match to life with a mazy run, playing a one-two with Koller, then a third pass which Koller, caught by surprise, was slow to control before shooting wide.
The Czechs needed new blood and Karel Bruckner's reluctance to use substitutes was surprising, especially given Marek Heinz's form. Rehhagel was less cautious and Giannakopoulos and Vasilios Tsiartas proved significant arrivals.
Giannakopoulos was a nuisance, bringing a fortuitious save from Cech and stretching the defence. Tsiartas' passing also troubled them and his dead-ball delivery was telling. Cech did well to deny Dellas from one set-piece but was stranded when Dellas met Tsiartas' 105th minute corner at the near post and sent all Greece into rapture.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- Czech Republic
- Futebol Clube Do Porto
- Millwall FC
- Premier League
- Thierry Henry