Greece find time for one last act of giant-killing

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The team that has been scorned and patronised by the failed powers of the game are champions of Europe, and anyone who cares about values in sport, who believes that honesty is still an attribute of the highest value in the age of big money and celebrity, is entitled to perform a modest version of the dance of Zorba the Greek.

The Portuguese, a team of rich talent, but desperately unfulfilled promise, were carried to the great stadium on a vast tide of belief. But they found something that had been at the heart of their deepest fears ... an ill-considered Greek team who just couldn't get their heads around the idea of defeat.

In the end the drama was exquisite - and extended by several minutes by a pitch invader who hurled himself into the Greek net. The Portuguese knew how he felt as they crumbled to the turf at the sound of the final whistle. They had been driven into their own soil by a team of unbreakable spirit and it will be some time before they marshall all of their regrets.

"Obrigado Portugal - thank you, Portugal," said coach Luiz Felipe Scolari after his team had ridden the extraordinary expression of national will and joy to reach the country's first ever final in a major competition. But really he hadn't seen anything.

Yesterday, Portugal moved its obsession with the team of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Carvalho and Maniche Ribeiro up another huge notch. A great flotilla of hope was formed when the team bus swung out of the training headquarters in a sun-baked sprawl of olive trees at the southern end of the great 13-kilometre long bridge of Vasco da Gama. This was after a night when the squares of every city and village were thronged with revellers. Only in Scolari's native Brazil could it be easily imagined that such passion would reach into every corner of the land.

As the red and green flags waved from almost every building, car and boat - and motorway bridges - national television switched suddenly from Roger Federer's master class in the Wimbledon final. He was on set point at the time, but that didn't begin to compare with the drama of the Portuguese bus heading towards the city.

For Scolari and his men all this fiercely tangible expectation was no doubt a two-edged gift. It was also a reminder to some of what can happen when the will of a people is disappointed on a football field. Back in Italy in 1990 the nation went into shock when the Azzurri were beaten by Diego Maradona's threadbare defending champions in Naples.

The worry for Portugal, of course, was that these unloved, but fiercely effective Greeks, had already delivered one gut-wrenching blow to the national pride, the opening game defeat that threatened the team's qualification from that group.

The Greeks have expressed their football faith in a more practical direction: the fervent leadership of 65-year-old German coach/messiah Otto Rehhagel. His unbending belief in the virtue of pressure football, with at least eight men behind the ball, had not exactly pushed back the football horizons in this tournament.

But it had also delivered stunning victories over defending champions France and the much fancied Czech Republic, and set a hugely impressive standard of honest endeavour. The Portuguese may have been floating on a sea of national acclaim, but they didn't need telling that only one of their most confident, and fluent, performances would do.

It did not come in a first half of fiercely competitive football as the Greeks showed that they were undismayed by the loss through yellow cards of the combative heart of their team, Giorgios Karagounis. His replacement, Stelios Giannakopoulos of Bolton, brought his own version of the Trojan wars, and though the Portuguese had most of the ball for the first 20 minutes they made little impact on the goal of Antonios Nikopolidis.

Indeed, the most threatening moment came when more than little artistry touched the intense Greek functionalism. It was triggered by the poised full-back Giourkas Seitaridis, who is some people's idea of the most consistently effective player in the tournament, both in the cleanness of his tackling and his aggressive thinking when on the ball. On this occasion it was worked downfield in a swift, arresting flow of passes and only sharp anticipation by the Portuguese goalkeeper, Ricardo, denied Angelos Charisteas.

The Portuguese were showing signs of pressure as the Greek fans, perhaps sensing another assault on European football's class system, began a steady chant of anticipation. Maniche, Portugal's outstanding midfielder, and Deco were striving to exert control, and Ronaldo, much more prominent than Figo, made some eye-catching runs. But the Greeks, once more, were refusing to be cowed by their alleged betters.

Certainly there was not a hint of inferiority about the style of Greece's goal, in the 57th minute. It came from a corner, Charisteas finding the space to head in the cross of Angelos Basinas, but the winning of the kick was a reflection of Greece's growing poise. Seitaridis, who had been duelling superbly with Ronaldo, took the play to his opponent and came within an inch of crossing before the desperate intervention of the Manchester United man.

Portugal felt the weight of all that national passion now, and Scolari finally abandoned his attachment to the misfiring Pauleta, bringing on the much more rounded Nuno Gomes.

He also replaced the defensive midfielder Francisco Costinha with Rui Costa, the fading star who rescued Portugal with a brilliant goal in the quarter-final with England. Deco Souza and Maniche continued to launch waves of attack and Nikopolidis was required to save anxiously from a long shot by the latter. The Portuguese were pushing to their limits now, but the Greeks, as always, were fighting the most honest of battles.