Frenzied celebration greets Greek win

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The Independent Football

Greece awoke groggily yesterday to the realisation that their national team is in the final of Euro 2004. Thursday's semi-final win over the Czech Republic was the latest episode of an epic Greek drama that has transformed a nation in a state of anxiety over the approaching Athens Olympics into a blue and white flag-waving party.

Greece awoke groggily yesterday to the realisation that their national team is in the final of Euro 2004. Thursday's semi-final win over the Czech Republic was the latest episode of an epic Greek drama that has transformed a nation in a state of anxiety over the approaching Athens Olympics into a blue and white flag-waving party.

More than 100,000 ecstatic fans poured into a single Athens square on Thursday for a wild all-night party to a soundtrack of car horns, raucous cheering and deafening renditions of the national anthem. Fireworks lit up the sky over the Acropolis and a grey-bearded Orthodox priest danced among the cars on Athinas Avenue, trailing an enormous Greek flag. Similar scenes were repeated from mountain villages in the north to the southernmost island of Crete.

The tournament's rank outsiders, rated marginally more likely than Latvia to lift the trophy having never won a game at a major finals, have now beaten the hosts once so far, the holders and everyone's pre-tournament dark horses, the Czechs.

Bleary-eyed office workers, many still wearing football shirts, arrived late at their desks yesterday. "Never before have we seen this kind of massive reaction, it is literally a reaction of the national collective subconscious from a country that had hardly achieved international recognition in any field," said Marianna Pyrgioti, news manager at radio station Flash96.

"Greeks don't normally get to feel as Brits or Germans do about the power and importance of their country. It's beyond football, it's the case of the small country that, at this moment, feels like a big country."

Newspapers and television stations abandoned any pretence of covering anything else and the normally serious political press led with blue and white front pages and headlines quoting the national anthem.

A front-page article in the daily SporTime read: "Greece are in the final. Greece are in the final of the EURO! We're writing this so we can believe it! We're writing this so it can sink in! Nothing now can stop us. Everything feels like a dream."

Television offered endless repeats of Traianos Dellas's silver goal in the final minute of the first period of extra time. The giant centre-back and former Sheffield United player has been rechristened the "Colossus of Rhodes" after his dominant defensive performance. One government minister publicly insisted German coach Otto Rehhagel must be given Greek citizenship the moment he returns.

Bemused tourists caught up in the rush were taken aback at the scale of celebrations: "I'm sending texts to my friends in London to tell them what's going on here but it's hard for them to understand how wild it is," said Ash Amrite, a Briton in Athens on holiday.

Travel agents were deluged with calls and the transport ministry vowed to mobilise "everything we have and don't have, come hell or high water", to get as many Greeks as possible out to Portugal to join an estimated 10,000 already there.

"The phones started ringing mid-morning and they haven't stopped since, everyone wants to get to Portugal," said a travel agent offering packages to Lisbon. Even financial institutions joined the frenzy, with one leading high street bank announcing a low interest loan of 1,000 euros to anyone wanting to get to Lisbon for the final.

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