Greek gods bring an end to golden era of France

France 0 Greece 1
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The Independent Online

France, the holders and favourites, last night tumbled out of the European Championship as outsiders Greece sprung the shock of Euro 2004. A well-taken goal by Angelos Charisteas after 65 minutes earned the unfancied but disciplined Greeks, who had never won a match in a major finals before this tournament, a merited victory over the ageing French maestros.

France, the holders and favourites, last night tumbled out of the European Championship as outsiders Greece sprung the shock of Euro 2004. A well-taken goal by Angelos Charisteas after 65 minutes earned the unfancied but disciplined Greeks, who had never won a match in a major finals before this tournament, a merited victory over the ageing French maestros.

The Greeks had quickly realised they were facing mortals not Gods and begun to express themselves with the freedom of men who knew, after reaching the knock-out stages, they had already guaranteed themselves a heroes' welcome.

Their confidence was further lifted by an early break down the left by Panagiotis Fyssas whose cross just eluded Charisteas.

Themistoklis Nikolaidis then tested Fabien Barthez from 20 yards before, after 14 minutes, they thought they had taken a shock lead. Georgios Karagounis flighted a free-kick to the far post which was contested by Bixente Lizarazu and Konstantinos Katsouranis. The ball squirmed towards goal and Barthez just managed to scramble it away before it edged over the line - or so he claimed. The Greeks thought otherwise but the linesman sided with Barthez.

The French, who had replaced the injured Patrick Vieira (thigh) with Olivier Dacourt, passed neatly but struggled to penetrate a Greek team which had been reshuffled again by the wily Otto Rehhagel. Their fourth formation in as many matches featured man-markers at the back and Karagounis switching between the "hole" and the left wing.

There he came into regular contact with Zinedine Zidane, the pair being booked for fouls on one-another either end of the half, but the World Player of the Year did escape his minder after 24 minutes to create France's first real chance. Drifting to the left he released Lizarazu whose cross was headed powerfully, but inaccurately, by Thierry Henry.

Greece had lost five and drawn one of their previous six matches against France, the latter back in 1958, but continued to be by no means overawed. They ceded far less space to the holders than England had and took the game to them with imagination and fluency.

Katsouranis and Fyssas both brought Barthez into action, the latter with a dipping volley the keeper touched over, before, with the interval approaching, France stirred again. Henry, breaking off the left flank in his familiar way, for once shrugged off Georgios Seitaridis but his shot was deflected and easily saved.

The French were equally muted after the break but an attempt by Angelis Basinas to chip Barthez from a 40-yard free-kick seemed to rile them and they upped the tempo, pushing both full-backs forward. A mazy run by Lizarazu was only ended ten yards from goal then a burst from William Gallas required swift intervention from Zagorakis.

In between Mihalis Kapsis headed clear from under the posts as David Trezeguet shaped to head in an Henry cross. Henry, to his evident frustration, volleyed wide then shot tamely. A goal seemed imminent but no one expected it to arrive at the other end.

Zagorakis, once of Leicester City, beat Lizarazu, picked his spot, and delivered a cross the unmarked Charisteas simply diverted into the net. Both the neutrals and the Greeks went wild.

Jacques Santini, seeking to avert a premature arrival at White Hart Lane, threw on Louis Saha and Sylvain Wiltord. Trezeguet, the golden goal match-winner in the final four years ago, departed forlornly having given another lame display. Robert Pires soon followed.

Saha soon made an impact, tricking his way into the box only to shoot tamely. Henry followed suit as the French, in their anxiety, snatched at chances and over-hit passes.

When, with four minutes left, Henry rose to head a Gallas cross past the far post it was clear their reign was over.

In successive days Spain, Italy, Germany, England and France have gone out. The Dutch, the last visiting drawcard left, have reason to be nervous in Faro tonight.

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