Greek resolve the key as hosts' flaws resurface

Greece 2 Portugal 1
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The Independent Online

There will be a temptation, in the England camp this morning, to relax a little. The lesson from Porto on Saturday is that the French challenge may be behind England but neither the Swiss, nor the Croatians, their other group opponents, should be taken lightly.

There will be a temptation, in the England camp this morning, to relax a little. The lesson from Porto on Saturday is that the French challenge may be behind England but neither the Swiss, nor the Croatians, their other group opponents, should be taken lightly.

Felipe Scolari, Portugal's World Cup-winning coach, under-estimated the Greeks in the Estadio Dragao. He dropped Petit in favour of the more attacking Maniche, figuring Greece, facing the hosts and making their first finals appearance since 1980, would defend. Scolari paid dearly for this assumption. Greece took the running to Portugal, scored early, then picked them off. The final margin of defeat was only one goal but there was a chasm between the teams.

"I want to apologise for the result and our performance which didn't reward the backing we had from the public," said Scolari. "I'm upset and sad and the players are down as well. In a competition like this you can only afford to lose one match. The next game is life or death." The Greeks should not have been disregarded. Early expectations that Portugal would cruise to victory were first diminished by a glance at the team sheet. Most hailed from Roma and Internazionale of Serie A, Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen and the big three Athens clubs whose consistency in the Champions' League is such that Greece now merit two of the 16 automatic qualifying places.

Then one remembered Greece played England off the park at Old Trafford before Beckham famously rescued World Cup qualification and have since won in Spain. Always a handful at home, the Greeks are no longer fearful travellers. Their progress is a tribute to Otto Rehhegel, their astute German manager.

"This is the biggest win of any Greek team ever," he said before rejecting a suggestion that he run for president preferring, he said, to be allowed to be the "first foreigner to drive in Athens' bus lanes".

Rehhegel had two familiar names at his disposal, Stelios Giannakopoulos, who has occasionally lit up the Reebok, and Theo Zagorakis, who had a steady spell at Leicester despite a thoughtful playing style sometimes at odds with Martin O'Neill's preference. Both played a full part in a disciplined team performance in which the striker Zisis Vryzas and the defender Trainios Dellas were outstanding. The right-back Georgios Seitaridis and the midfield anchor Angelis Basinas also impressed.

Perhaps, should they do as well against Russia on Sunday, they will be added to Roman Abramovich's shopping list. They certainly impressed more than the first signing of the Jose Mourinho era, £14m Paulo Ferreira. His slack pass was responsible for Greece's first goal, driven in by Georgios Karagounis, and he thereafter struggled to restrain Giannakopoulos.

Portugal's other Premiership player, Cristiano Ronaldo, had a mixed afternoon. Youthful naïvety, and poor technique, led him to blunder into Seitaridis and concede the penalty for the decisive second goal. Basinas despatched it clinically. Ronaldo, who had only arrived as a substitute five minutes earlier, gave everything to make amends. Three times he chipped crosses to the far post, on each occasion both forwards had gone to the near post. When the clock ticked past 90 minutes he was at right-back, defending at the corner flag. There was still time for the Manchester United teenager to head in Luis Figo's corner, but not for it to be anything other than a consolation.

Figo, the last survivor of the golden generation - Rui Costa having been replaced at the interval by Deco - also persevered but the magic is fading. Right-wing, playmaker, left-wing, he tried them all as Greece switched from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 to preserve their lead but only delivered for a set-piece. This typified what proved a traditional Portuguese performance. Pretty in midfield - they had 63 per cent possession - but lacking penetration in attack and concentration at the back.

An opening shock is normally the launch-pad for an absorbing tournament, witness Senegal's defeat of France in the last World Cup, but when it the host nation on the receiving end there is a danger of the competition turning flat.

The Portuguese flew their green-and-magenta flags all the way from Lisbon on the perilous A1 on Saturday, and hung them from every balcony around the Dragao. Yesterday they were wading through 50 pages of misery provided by the three sports newspapers and listening to fado, Portugal's melancholy version of the blues. They will be in no mood for a month-long festa de futebol if the hosts do not revive against Russia on Wednesday.

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