Throughout the history of soccer, there have been many shocks. Despite this, no underdog side has ever pulled off such an upset at an international tournament. Greece pulled off the impossible in 2004, winning a competition in which they were completely unfancied. Forget about being the football betting favourites for the tournament – they were odds-on favourites to be knocked out in the group stages, and went into every single game with all odds up against them. Over a decade later, they are still well-remembered.
Many people undervalue Greece winning Euro 2004 due to their defensive tactics in the latter stages. In truth, Greece adapted brilliantly to each game, changing styles effortlessly to win. If winning defensively was so easy, there would be more teams pulling upsets like Greece did. They were extremely resilient in the knockout stages of the tournament, as shown by three consecutive 1-0 victories in the knockout stages to win the tournament. Against France, in the quarter-finals, Greece won 1-0 with a headed goal. In the semi-finals, they won 1-0 from a headed goal. In the final against Portugal, they won 1-0 with a headed goal.
Otto Rehhagel did a brilliant job as Greece manager throughout the tournament. In the group stages, Greece beat Portugal 1-0 playing some good soccer. When the knockout stages came, however, Greece changed to a more defensive style. Against France in the quarter-finals, Greece played man-to-man defense. Another tactician who has employed this recently is Marcelo Bielsa, who did this with Athletic Bilbao against Barcelona, and with Marseille against PSG. France played a lopsided formation in this tournament, with Zinedine Zidane playing on the right side of midfield in a 4-4-2, with Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet up top as strikers. To cover this, Greece played two man-marking defenders and one player sweeping up. Trezeguet generally played centrally, so one center-back (Kapsis) marshaled him. Just as he did at Arsenal, Henry naturally dropped off to the left, allowing Greece to mark him with the right-back, Seitaridis. The left-back, Fyssas dropped back when having to cover Zidane. With Zidane moving centrally at times, Fyssas often had lots of space to go forward. Dellas, the second-center back, played as the sweeper. Greece virtually had three central midfielders covering this backline, with Karagounis playing just ahead. The formation played partly as a 4-3-1-2, but due to the man-marking, became lopsided when France’s formation was lopsided. With Czech Republic, who were quite probably the best side in the tournament, also playing a 4-4-2 formation (thereby two up top), Greece employed a similar formation.
In the final, Greece switched tactics due to Portugal’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Portugal were a formidable side, with the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Ronaldo, Figo, and Pauleta all starting. Pauleta played as the lone striker, and was a brilliant goalscorer, as shown by his 47 goals in 88 appearances for the national team. If Greece had stuck to the man-marking three man defence, they would have an extra man in defense, causing them to have one less man in midfield. To combat Portugal’s threat, Rehhagel switched to a natural four-man back line for the final. The fullbacks marked Ronaldo and Figo, while Greece equalled Portugal with three midfielders in the center of the pitch. On paper, Greece played a 4-4-2 formation, but Giannakopoulas played higher up on the left, while Zagorakis on the right played more centrally. Greece missed star midfielder Karagounis, who played as the central midfielder furthest forward, allowing more quality going forward. He missed the final through suspension. Up front, Vryzas played as the main striker, with Ginnakopoulas playing high up the pitch supporting him and thereby pushing the usually attack-minded Miguel (right-back) to stay back. Charisteas played in support, shifting into right-sided midfield out of possession. When Greece were in possession, Charisteas shifted to a more familiar central position, with the right-back Seitaridis providing the width going forward. After Greece went up 1-0 due to Charisteas’s goal, Giannakoupoulous came off for Venitidis. Venitidis allowed Greece to play with two lines of four, virtually creating a line of eight defenders, with two forwards ahead.
All in all, Greece brilliantly won Euro 2004 and are not given enough credit. Even if the usual top teams weren’t at their best in the tournament, Greece deservedly won the tournament. They beat Portugal twice, they beat the Czech Republic, and they beat the defending champions, France. This Greece side changed according to the opposition, instead of not changing a winning side game after game. Rehhagel used the strengths of his side to the fullest. Knowing he had a hard-working side with a solid defense, he naturally played defensively. Greece did not have a lot of attacking talent, so to play attacking football in knockout football could have been tactical suicide. They were superb from set-pieces, a quality often seen in overachieving underdog sides. They switched to nullify the opposition, which they did to perfection against France. In the end, Greece managed to pull off the greatest upset in international soccer history.
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