Poor Greece look a spent force

Eight years ago they produced a stunning success but there looks to be little hope of a repeat

Heard the one about the Greeks, the German and the Euro? Strange as it seems given the economic crisis gripping Greece, there was a time not so long ago when Euro was less a dirty word for many of its citizens than a cause for national celebration.

It was in summer 2004 that a Greece team led by a German coach, Otto Rehhagel, became the improbable continental champions thanks to a 1-0 victory over Portugal in the European Championship final in Lisbon. "A football miracle that will be very difficult to repeat" is how Stelios Giannakopoulos, the former Bolton Wanderers midfielder, remembers it.

"We didn't go there to win the tournament but game after game we saw that anything is possible. Rehhagel played a big part. He came into a Greek group of players and put German discipline together with the Greek talent – it was a very good combination," adds Stelios, offering an unwitting slogan for Angela Merkel.

Greece had not won a single game at a major tournament prior to Euro 2004 but a 2-1 victory over Portugal in the opening match set them on a fairytale run that included the quarter-final dethroning of France. As their captain and one-time Leicester City midfielder Theodoros Zagorakis puts it: "We began thinking we could do something big."

So it proved but as their successors prepare to face co-hosts Poland in another Euro curtain-raiser in Warsaw on Friday, the achievement of Rehhagel's team feels like a distant dream. On the pitch, Greece topped their qualifying group ahead of Croatia but have won only one of five warm-up matches since –1-0 in Armenia on Thursday – which hardly augurs well, despite their presence in the competition's weakest section. Yet it is off the pitch that Greek football – mirroring the society around it – faces its biggest challenge, whatever welcome distractions Euro 2012 might provide.

"The financial problem is very big and has influenced football," says Stelios, now president of the Greek PFA. "Even some big clubs in Greece have massive problems." If the most successful side, Olympiakos, benefit from their annual Champions' League income, the two other major Athens teams, Panathinaikos and AEK, each have estimated debts of at least €50m, with the latter among several clubs so far denied a licence to compete in next season's Super League.

Zagorakis himself had to step down as president of PAOK Salonika in January after fans reacted angrily to his decision to sell the club's star player, Vieirinha, to help balance the books. He believes Greek clubs must act now to "minimise their debts" and sees PAOK's own focus on youth players as the only way forward.

If Greece is the sick man of Europe, two news stories from the past 12 months highlight the ill health of its football. Last June a bribery scandal broke after Uefa officials handed the Greek authorities a report into irregular betting patterns, mostly involving second-division and cup fixtures. There were 70 arrests, including Vangelis Marinakis – the shipping magnate and Olympiakos chairman– as well as the Olympiakos and Greece defender Avraam Papadopoulos.

Marinakis, who stepped down as the Super League president last summer, was charged with complicity to commit acts of bribery and match manipulation but in the end the only parties punished were Olympiakos Volou and Kavala, two top-flight clubs demoted three divisions – and their jailed owners.

A survey published this year by FIFPro, the world players' union, into football in 12 countries in eastern Europe added grist to the rumour mill: it found 30 per cent of players in Greece had been approached to consider fixing the result of a match, while 47 per cent said they were aware of fixed matches. Moreover, of the 505 players polled, 67.5 per cent do not receive their salaries on time – with some waiting for up to a year.

Those in the national squad are the lucky ones, however. "I do not believethat the Greece players are affected by the economic situation," says Zagorakis. Stelios concurs: "Some play abroad and those in Greek clubs mainly don't have any issues because sooner or later they will get paid."

There is no problem for their Portuguese coach, Fernando Santos, either, who recently received a much-reported salary rise to €600,000 annually. That said, in the run-up to Euro 2012, the Greece players have voiced their desire to give the public at home some much-needed cheer – Georgios Karagounis, one of the survivors of 2004, spoke of helping them "forget for a short time, at least, the problems of everyday life".

Stelios believes this could provide an extra spur and hopes history might repeat itself for Greece – on Friday at least. "The first game will be a key game because we play the hosts and [as when] we played Portugal in the opening game at Euro 2004, the Polish are going to have big pressure because the whole nation is going to expect them to win. They will be nervous, they will be under pressure and we have to take advantage of that."

If not, the final group game against Russia on 16 June could lead to some unwanted headlines the next morning. Just imagine, "Greece exit Euro" on the very day the country's voters go back to the polls.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor