'Our soul is always our greatest strength'

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The Independent Football

Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis, the former Leicester City midfielder, revealed his immense pride at having led the Euro 2004 underdogs to a shock victory against hosts Portugal.

Zagorakis declared that the heart and soul which had carried his side, who were 80-1 pre-tournament outsiders, to success were the "greatest gifts that God ever gave us".

Having defended for all their worth against a Portugal side devoid of inspiration, Greece completed one of the competition's greatest ever shocks as Angelos Charisteas headed the winner from their only corner.

The striker, who is not even a regular at Werder Bremen, was just another example of a supposed journeyman professional turned into a match-winner by German coach Otto Rehhagel.

Zagorakis, meanwhile, who made just 45 starts in two-and-a-half years with Leicester, was released on a free transfer to AEK Athens in June 2000. However, on the day that he equalled the record as his country's most capped player, the 32-year-old midfielder held aloft the European Championships trophy after their 1-0 victory.

Zagorakis, voted the man-of-the-match declared: "My mind was completely blank, the only thing that I wanted to do was to lift the cup.In fact, I have no words to describe how I feel right now.

"We have just proved once again that the Greek soul is, and always will be, our strength. It is the greatest gift that God ever gave us."

Greece had not previously won a game at a major tournament before a 2-1 win against Portugal in the opening match set them on the path to success, via victories against France and the Czech Republic.

"Just getting to the finals was already a great achievement. What we have done here in Portugal was even greater," added Zagorakis. "You can't imagine what is going on in the dressing-room, with all the joy in there. Of course, we dedicate this cup to Greek people all over the world. I think we have given then something more than joy. We have given them a great pride, which they will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives."

Greece coach Rehhagel side-stepped questions as to whether he would now be lured into becoming the new Germany coach ahead of the 2006 World Cup in his homeland.

"Now is the time for the team. We are off to the hotel to celebrate this victory and there is no place for any other words," he insisted, adding: "Sport speaks for itself. It is amazing how football has managed to unite all Greeks, something that politics is unable to do.

While Rehhagel will inevitably again be criticised for his defensive tactics, Charisteas had repaid his faith with the 56th-minute headed winner from a corner - his third goal of the tournament.

"Perhaps his manager at Werder Bremen preferred other players but I have counted on him since the start and we have just seen the result of that," he declared. "He was one of the top players in this tournament."

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