Giorgos Karagounis retires from international football comment: A tribute to Greece's captain, 'The Bloke'

The 37-year-old called it a day after his country's World Cup elimination

A true captain is the one that gets along the most with his teammates, the one that sticks his neck out when things get tough, someone that will fear no opponent and will constantly raise the confidence of his ‘brothers in arms’. The captain is the one who will play more passionately than anyone else on the pitch and will get the best out of his teammates at the same time.

A true legend is the one that will play on his 37 year like he is still 10 years younger, he will not back down from the biggest responsibility (such as taking the last penalty in perhaps his very last match), he will make way for the new breed once his time is over and he will win over the hearts of every single fellow-countryman of his on his last recital.

Giorgos Karagounis was all that during his international career, since wearing his nation’s badge on his chest for the first time in 1999 up until removing the jersey in Recife’s dressing room for the very last occasion. His passion, ethos and love for this team never changed and now he leaves with his head held high and with an international legacy that might remain unmatched for years to come.

The legendary midfielder was born in March 6 1977 and joined Panathinaikos, one of the biggest clubs in Greece, during his teen years. That is where he found his football nest and grew into the player we know today, as he was one of the most prominent figures in the team’s quest for European glory where it landed them to the Champions League Group of 16 and quarter-finals in 2001 and 2002 respectively – the Athenian club also reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals a year later where they were eliminated by Jose Mourinho’s Porto.  ‘Kara’ left his mark in the European top flight by scoring an amazing free kick at Old Trafford in 2000 against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and by netting the winning goal against Arsenal in Athens a year later.  

 

The league title loss against ‘eternal enemies’ Olympiakos in 2003 led to a number of players leaving the club and trying their luck abroad. Karagounis went to Inter Milan and played with the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Adriano and Christian Vieri, and although he was not a prominent player he managed to grow his talent and amass great knowledge from the competitive Serie A.

A year later the player entered the pantheon of the all-time greatest when Otto Rehhagel’s Greece tried their luck in the Euro 2004 in Portugal. The then Inter Milan player fit perfectly into Rehhagel’s plans as his spell in Italy, as well as the experience amassed by other key players such as Traianos Dellas, Angelos Charisteas and Stelios Giannakopoulos who played for Roma, Werder Bremen and Bolton respectively, brought real talent and professionalism into the National.

Portugal expected a walk in the park against the Greek underdogs but ‘Kara’ was the one that provided the first Greek shock by firing a shot straight to Ricardo’s net seven minutes into the match and sent his entire nation up in the heavens. The country never landed after that as Greece went all the way to the final and beat the hosts for the second time to write perhaps the most beautiful Cinderella story in football history.

However, a yellow card against the Czech Republic in the semi-finals wouldn’t allow Karagounis to play in Lisbon, which showed that the former skipper never cared about the match before or the next challenge ahead. He only focused on the game at hand, always gave his best and constantly tried to get the most out of a challenge, which is why he was praised as a vital member of the squad during that campaign.

The triumph’s captain Theodoros Zagorakis retired from the Greece team in 2007 but his giant shoes were filled up surprisingly quickly by a natural-born leader. From the moment ‘Kara’ wore the armband he showed everyone why he was called ‘Typaras’ (which means ‘The Lad’ or ‘The Bloke’) as he brought a unique passion into his game and inspired security in midfield – he also did that with style. He even got the nod from a number of sore Olympiakos fans who got tired of quite a few controversial fouls he earned in Greece.

His unbreakable character was shown in the last Euro when he missed a penalty that would give his nation the win against co-hosts Poland in the tournament opener. However, ‘Kara’ bounced back by scoring the winning goal against group favourites Russia which sent his team to the quarter-finals against Germany, however the skipper would miss out due to another booking. Greece did miss him in that match and got eliminated, though many say that if the captain was there things could have been a bit different.

Fast forward to this year’s World Cup and the captain proved that age is just another number , as he awakened Greece against Japan once entering the pitch and served as the chief guard of the team’s first ever clean sheet in the competition. His presence also pushed the team towards a win against Ivory Coast that sent them to the Round of 16 for the first time to face Costa Rica where the 37-year-old played 120 hellacious minutes, ran over 13 km and even asked to hit the last penalty.

It makes perfect sense that this kind of player is the most capped footballer in the history of Greece with 139 matches to his name. He didn’t want to leave the pitch after his team got eliminated by the same side that sent England packing because of his special bond with the Greek team that, at the moment, remains unmatched.

Greece are now out of the World Cup but the jersey is now even heavier than in 2004, and thanks to ‘Kara’ the armband now carries a ton of weight. The former Fulham man will definitely be missed by the Greek team as he has left some gigantic shoes to fill, but the new generation, which he praised after the match, need to understand that everything is possible if you learn to love the team, go the distance and close your ears when famous pundits underestimate your abilities repeatedly. That is ‘The Bloke’s’ legacy…

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