Karagounis exposes a host of problems

Portugal 1 Greece 2
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The Independent Football

From the euphoric epicentre of footballing culture to city of the damned, and all within two hours. How swift a mood can change. As proud holder of the Champions' League trophy and now hosts of the opening contest of Euro 2004, Porto braced itself for an evening of horn-blaring commotion last night. Instead, the citizens of Portugal's second city could only register disbelief as one of the tournament favourites capitulated on an evening which was hardly an auspicious one for the English Premiership. Chelsea's newly-acquired defender Paulo Ferreira committed a cardinal error in the build-up to Greece's early opener, while Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as a half-time substitute to concede a penalty which confirmed a famous triumph for Greece.

From the euphoric epicentre of footballing culture to city of the damned, and all within two hours. How swift a mood can change. As proud holder of the Champions' League trophy and now hosts of the opening contest of Euro 2004, Porto braced itself for an evening of horn-blaring commotion last night. Instead, the citizens of Portugal's second city could only register disbelief as one of the tournament favourites capitulated on an evening which was hardly an auspicious one for the English Premiership. Chelsea's newly-acquired defender Paulo Ferreira committed a cardinal error in the build-up to Greece's early opener, while Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as a half-time substitute to concede a penalty which confirmed a famous triumph for Greece.

The victors' German coach Otto Rehhagel, a Bundesliga veteran of four decades, who took charge of Greece in 2001, had described the mere fact of his adopted nation's presence in the opening match as "extraordinary". Greece, after all, had never previously won a match at any major tournament. One can only imagine the effect of this victory - a thoroughly merited one, it must be added, too - back in the football-crazy city of Athens and beyond. "This is the biggest win of any Greek team ever," reflected Rehhagel, whose ecstatic players serenaded their supporters at the final whistle. "Tomorrow is a Sunday and I hope that Greeks will hang flags outside their houses."

Here, the locals may decide hanging effigies of Figo and Co would be more appropriate. How different it had all been a couple of hours earlier when the opening ceremony brought the crowd to a climax of patriotic fervour within this newly-opened stadium, with its spectacular backdrop of the Douro River. It featured a mock-up of a galleon, with participants portraying fish of all varieties, and an "ocean" of dancers in what was apparently Portugal's tribute to the pioneers who made it a major world power in the 15th and 16th century.

While Portugal expected to embark on a footballing voyage of discovery, with an apparently potent blend of experienced and exciting young performers, they managed to conclude the evening all at sea. Though they had never attained the distinction of reaching a major final, this appeared an enticing invitation to become the fourth host nation to win the championships - although Arsène Wenger was one notable judge who insisted beforehand the Portuguese "Golden Generation" may have already peaked. It looked an accurate assessment by the Arsenal manager.

It is certainly a final opportunity for Luis Figo who, winning his 105th cap yesterday, is due to retire from internationals after this tournament, and Rui Costa, who, at 32, was playing his 91st game for Portugal. It could be an ignominious retirement for both. With Spain to face in their final game, Portugal are not out, but certainly down; both in terms of points and psychology.

Portugal's coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, known as Felipao ("Big Phil"), who orchestrated Brazil's 2002 World Cup victory, has been linked to the Benfica vacancy. Scolari denied it emphatically, and accused the media of attempting to destabilise his team. He plans to stay on until 2006, he says. That's if he's still required after this.

"I'm beaten down, sad. But these results happen," said the Portugal coach. "The players are really depressed and myself too. The next game [on Wednesday, against Russia] is crucial for us. The next game is life or death."

Too frequently, particularly during the first half, too many of his players lacked conviction, a failing epitomised when Ferreira of all people - who cost Chelsea over £13mwhen he moved to join his former Porto coach Jose Mourinho - miskicked a clearance to Georgios Karagounis. The Internazionale player strode forward, recognised a dearth of Portuguese cover and unleashed a low drive that beat goalkeeper Ricardo just inside his post. The Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who was watching from the stands, must have had a double-take.

It did not get much better for the hosts. With Greece's impressive centre-back Traianos Dellas intelligently intercepting much of Portugal's approach play, Group A's least regarded team rarely appeared liable to concede an equaliser. Indeed, they may have enjoyed an enhanced scoreline at the interval, with Angelos Charisteas heading over narrowly, as his team-mates produced shots from all angles and distances. Portugal had increased the tempo around the half-hour, and they always dominated possession, yet it was Greece who had by far the most attempts in that intriguing first half. The much-vaunted Pauleta offered little.

Porto's gifted midfielder Deco, together with Ronaldo, emerged for Rui Costa and Simao Sabrosa at the interval. Could the United winger produce some of his sumptuous footwork to bemuse the Greek rearguard? Sadly, his first significant contribution was to yield the penalty from which Greece scored their second. As defender Georgios Seitaridis dashed into the box, Ronaldo felled him with a challenge that had "18-year-old, not-a-defender" written all over it. Angelos Basinas converted the spot-kick with aplomb.

Scolari's men responded with decent attempts from Figo and Deco, but it was Ronaldo who came closest with an effort, diverted wide. Then Nuno Gomes was thwarted by goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis. Finally, in added time, Figo's corner was headed home by Ronaldo. The pair barely bothered to celebrate. There were only seconds remaining.

You suspect the traditional Greek bouzouki music, of which Angelos Charisteas is apparently an expert player, was just about to start in earnest in the Greek capital. Here, it just went dreadfully quiet.

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