"Otto uber alles" read a banner opposite the main stand in tribute to the 65-year-old Otto Rehhagel, veteran of eight German clubs, who has brought organisation and discipline where once the cult of defiant individualism held sway in the Greek national team. The new qualities, evident in a record of only one defeat and eight goals against in the 10 European Championship matches before last night's, stood them in good stead once more. When a more positive approach was added in extra-time, the reward for Traianos Dellas' headed goal was almost unimaginable.
Disarray more reminiscent of earlier days had briefly threatened. For days the talk of the country had been the strike by the big centre-forward Angelos Charisteas that had sent France's superstars to the beach rather earlier than they had anticipated.
Now a different type of strike was suddenly being mooted. Like many giant-killers before them, the Greeks had not paid any great heed to bonuses for reaching the latter stages of a competition in which the more generous bookmakers (an admittedly rare breed) were offering 100-1 against them as winners. At a rather late stage the players decided they were entitled to greater share of the riches going to their federation and there was wild talk of refusing to play before, predictably, a compromise was reached.
Finance is a touchy subject in the volatile world of Greek football, all the more so at present since one of the three leading clubs, AEK Athens, are threatened with expulsion to the amateur game because of debts totalling more than £70m.
Remarkably, the main shareholder at AEK is none other than the Atletico Madrid striker Themistoklis Nikolaidis, who last night found himself dropped to facilitate the return of Fiorentina's Zisis Vryzas. The change meant moving Charisteas out wider, and though Giorgios Karagounis played further forward on the left than against France, there was for a long time only one real sight of goal for anyone in a blue shirt. That was the low cross from Panagiotis Fyssas that eluded the Greek forwards but worried Petr Cech into a nervous push away.
Arguably the most important kick by a Greek player in the first half was the gruesome hack at the back of Pavel Nedved's legs by his marker Costas Katsouranis after little more than a minute's play. Tomas Rosicky's thunderous shot from the resulting free-kick bounced off the crossbar.
The Czechs, however, suffered by losing their most important player shortly before the interval, at which stage Rehhagel would have been well pleased with the success of his man-marking defensive strategy. Not until the later stages of the game were Jan Koller, a good six inches taller than his immediate opponent, and Milan Baros granted a sniff of a scoring opportunity.
Then they crowded each other out going for Karel Poborsky's inviting corner, and in the final minutes of normal time each missed the same post. The Liverpool man's frustration was due largely to the unremitting attentions of Giourkas Seitaridis, who will become a popular figure in this stadium as the replacement for Chelsea's expensive new right-back, the Portugal reserve Paulo Ferreira.
As the second half progressed, there were half chances for the Greeks, all from free-kicks conceded by an occasionally anxious Czech defence. In extra-time, finishing strongly, they began to look the more dangerous, the Bolton substitute Stelios Giannakopoulos twice causing panic before the astonishing last touch of the match. The day belonged to Rehhagel, Dellas and Hellas.Reuse content