There have been a number of sporting upsets over the years, especially within the game of football. Leicester City’s jaw-dropping Premier League title win in the 2015/16 season, Senegal’s 1-0 victory against France in the 2002 World Cup, England’s 1-5 battering of Germany and the German’s 7-1 trouncing of Brazil in the 2014 edition of the World Cup, played in the South American’s homeland.
However, Angelos Charisteas certainly made a contribution as he helped a vital role in helping to rock European football and create a talking point that some will arguably is one of the biggest shocks to have ever happened in the sport; Greece’s 2004 European Championship success.
One of the sides thought to have only been making up the numbers, the Greeks were considered to be one of the biggest underdogs as their odds of winning were as large as 250-1 outsiders for the competition’s crown, therefore showing the distinct lack of interest in their chances of causing a shock. Those odds would certainly have been justified at the time as well, as the nation had never won a single match in tournament football prior to the competition.
Previously, appearances at major tournaments have been nothing more than just an extended part of the football calendar for those handed national duties, as they had picked up just one draw in six games, conceding 14 in the process.
However, Otto Rehhagel and Charisteas embedded their names into Greek folklore with their achievements in the tournament and would go down in history as two names (along with much of the squad) as men who would never be forgotten regarding the country’s game.
Despite other countries being able to call upon some of the biggest names in the world, other countries that were less favoured still managed to boast players who had big reputations in the game, therefore further giving the suggestion that Greece would find it tough to do any better than their previous tournament showings. In truth, considering the vast majority of their side had been playing their football in the country, with just seven men of the 23 named in the squad playing abroad, the writing looked to be on the wall once the group draw had been made.
Of course, looking back at their route to qualifying for the 2004 European Championships, perhaps there could have been an inkling that they may have sprung some chickens, although admittedly it would have been incredibly difficult to fathom.
Galanolefki were placed in a group with Spain, Ukraine, Armenia and Northern Ireland and would have immediately been discounted with Spain and Ukraine most likely to finish at the top of the division. Of course, with 2004 Ballon d’Or winner Andriy Shevchenko and forwards such as Raul and Fernando Morientes leading the line for La Rioja, it would have been expected that they would pose too many problems. However, the Greeks managed to cope rather well as there was more action to come.
Rehhagel’s side managed to win six of their games out of the eight they played, including a fixture against the Spaniard’s in Spain. What was more impressive was their ability to grind out results, having scored just eight but conceding just four. Armenia managed to bag seven, which would have been considered an impressive feat for them in their own minds.
Perhaps even more incredible, was that Greece had lost the first two fixtures of their qualifying matches to Spain and Ukraine 2-0, before going on to a six-game winning streak without conceding a goal.
Doubting their ability should have been a warning sign at the time, however the majority of the football world would have not given them a chance when seeing the group they were handed at the actual competition. Galanolefki were handed matches against hosts Portugal, Spain once again and Russia.
Continuing with their theme of surprising everyone, Greece beat the hosts 2-1 who had a full-strength side that included the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, as well as upcoming world talents Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco coming on from the bench. Giorgios Karagounis and Angelos Basinas both got themselves on the scoresheet to set their country up with a start they could have only imagined.
The good times kept on rolling, as Rehhagel’s men picked up a 1-1 draw with Spain and continued to frustrate the side they had been incredibly accustomed to, with Charisteas scoring with one of their two shots on target.
Entering the game against Russia, the Greeks would have had a degree of confidence about their chances, however they were beaten 2-1. Nonetheless, they still somehow managed to qualify for the knockout stages as they edged out the Spaniards on goals scored – a total of four to La Rioja’s two.
Whilst Galanolefki would have made an impression on European football by reaching this stage of the competition, as well as raising a few eyebrows with their conquests, many would have expected their journey to end as they were handed a tie against France.
With stars like Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and many other global names to have helped Les Bleus win the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships against the minnows of Greece, many would have said the French were sure-fire favourites.
Rehhagel decided to opt for an approach that was perhaps a little too modern for the time, with a man-marking system being utilised, as well as a deep-lying defence and a narrow midfield. Greece, though, managed to upset all the odds once again as they emerged with a 1-0 win, after Charisteas heading home from a Theodoros Zagorakis cross.
The Czech Republic continued to impress in the tournament and were fancied to be the side that would provide the shock, if there was going to be one. With men like Jan Koller and Pavel Nedvěd, the Czechs had won all of their group games, before easing past Denmark with a 3-0 result in the Last 8 to set up a semi-final encounter with the southern European nation.
Things looked incredibly difficult for Greece as men like Zdenek Gygera, Thomas Rosicky and Vladimir Smicer continued to prove dangerous, whilst Marek Jankulovski continued to be an incredible outlet for the Czechs.
Nonetheless, Greece did what they managed to do throughout the whole tournament; hold on and make the most of the limited opportunities that would come their way. Having been able to set up the barricades and deal with the 16 shots they faced, the Greeks managed to score a ‘Silver Goal’ (a rule that would see teams advance if they scored in the only goal in the first half of extra-time) via a Traianos Dellas header in the final moments of the half.
Having made it all the way to the final, could Greece’s fairytale of a tournament continue? Of course it could, and it did. With the hosts, Portugal, reaching the pinnacle of the competition, the match was a rematch of the opening fixture from the tournament.
Indeed, in fashion true to form throughout the whole European Championship process (qualifiers and main competition), the Galanolefki stood tall, survived an ultimate barrage and took their chance when they finally made one.
Portugal, with all their star power, had 58% of the ball, had 17 shots at goal but still could not beat Antonios Nikopolidis in between the sticks, whereas Charisteas managed to score with a header – Greece’s only attempt at goal in the game and keeping to the theme they managed to create; win matches 1-0 and win with a header.
Whilst Rehhagel’s side may have been one of the most uninspiring sides to have ever won a tournament and one that would have never been expected to have been within a chance of lifting the title at the end of it, they proved they could be incredibly efficient and win with just a direct style of smash-and-grab.
Therefore, when thinking of the biggest shocks to have ever happened in football, Greece’s 2004 European Championship success automatically has to be considered as one.