Greece is the word

England’s 2002 World Cup campaign saw the National side managed for the first time by a foreign manager – Swede Sven Goran Eriksson, who managed to take England to the Quarter Finals of the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, though eliminated by Brazil from a free kick by Ronaldinho in which many blamed on an error by veteran England goalkeeper David Seaman.  England were drawn in the same group as Turkey, Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.  Even worse however was to follow for Seaman during the Euro 2004 qualifying campaign the following October against Macedonia at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium, as he was also deemed at fault for an Artim Šakiri corner, who scored direct.  In the end, England managed to scrape a 2-2 draw. 

England’s home fixtures were played at various grounds across the country, as Wembley stadium was in the process of being redeveloped.  The plumb tie would be a home game against Turkey in early April 2003 at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, where England ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Darius Vassell and a last minute penalty from David Beckham.  Qualification would be sealed the following October in the return fixture in Istanbul, with a 0-0 draw (however with a ludicrous penalty miss from captain Beckham). 

England would be the only side from the British Isles to qualify for Euro 2004, however Wales and Scotland would progress as far as the play offs.  In Group nine, Wales attained a 2-1 win over Italy in October 2002 with goals for Simon Davies and Craig Bellamy and Alessandro Del Piero on target for the Italians.  Wales however finished four points behind Italy in the runners up spot.

In the play offs, Wales were drawn against Russia and returned from Moscow with a 0-0 draw, however back at the Millennium Stadium the Welsh crashed to a 0-1 defeat.

Scotland meanwhile in Group five managed a 1-1 draw with Germany in June 2003 at Hampden Park, though finished four points behind the Germans. 

In the play offs, Scotland were drawn against Holland and even managed a 1-0 win over the Dutch at Hampden Park with a goal for James McFadden.  In the return leg at the Amsterdam Arena however, the Scots crashed to a 0-6 defeat with Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy bagging a hat-trick. 

The finals were to be played in Portugal, with the host nation drawn against Greece, Russia and neighbouring Spain.  The opening fixture would be Portugal v Greece at Porto.  Greece had qualified for only their third international tournament, in their previous other two – Euro ’80 and USA ’94 World Cup – they’d lost all three games.  The Greeks however would be the party poopers, running out 2-1 winners. 

Later that evening in the Estadio Do Algarve (a purpose build stadium for the tournament), Spain defeated Russia 1-0. 

Four days later in Porto, Spain played out a 1-1 draw.  Later that same day, at the Estadio Da Luz Portugal finally got off the mark with a 2-0 win over Russia with goals for Maniche and Rui Costa. 

In the final round of fixtures, Portugal secured their passage to the Quarter Finals with a 1-0 win resulting from a goal for Nuno Gomes. That result would be enough for Portugal to win the group, as that same evening Greece suffered a 1-2 defeat to Russia, though secured the runners up spot by virtue of scoring two goals more than Spain in third place.

England in Group B however would be drawn against reigning European champions France, as well as Croatia and Switzerland.  The latter two would play out a 0-0 draw in their opening, while later that evening England’s opener would be against the French.  England took the lead on thirty eight minutes with a header from Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on the end of a David Beckham free kick.  Into the second half, after a burst from Wayne Rooney of Everton from his own half into the penalty area, the precocious eighteen year old was brought down in the box by future Man United team mate Mikael Silvestre to concede a penalty.  Up popped David Beckham, however the Real Madrid Midfielder fluffed his chance to secure the game for England, as his former Man United team mate Fabian Barthez saved his effort.

England’s lead lasted until injury time, when a Zinedine Zidane free kick levelled the score.  Two minutes later however, an error from Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard put Arsenal’s Thierry Henry through on goal.  Amid the panic at the back for England, goalkeeper David James would bring Henry down in the box.  Zinedine Zidane popped up again and slotted his kick away to inflict a  1-2 defeat on England.  Just minutes after the end of the game, Baddiel & Skinner had an interesting take on that evening’s game in a reprisal of their ‘Fantasy Football League’ show on ITV, along with taking the rise out of Christiano Ronaldo’s early penchant for step-overs (long before his rise to vying for the position of World’s Greatest player with Lionel Messi in the opinion of many observers).   

Not downhearted, four days on England played Switzerland in a game which saw the emergence of Wayne Rooney on the World stage.  Two goals for the eighteen year old and one from Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard gave England a 3-0 win.  Those three points would be all the more valuable to England as France dropped two points with a 2-2 draw with Croatia. 

The final round of fixtures saw England up against Croatia.  Goals for Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and another two for Wayne Rooney gave England a 4-2 win.  However, at the time the French managed a 3-1 win over Switzerland with goals from Zinedine Zidane and two for Thierry Henry, meaning that the French won the group, while England qualified through the runners up spot.

In Group C, Euro 2000 runners up Italy would be drawn alongside Sweden, Denmark and Bulgaria.  In the opening fixture, Italy and Denmark played out a 0-0 draw.  Later that same day, Sweden hammered Bulgaria 5-0 with goals for Freddie Ljungberg, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Marcus Allback and two for Henrik Larsson. 

Four days on, Denmark managed a 2-0 win over Bulgaria, while an equaliser from Zlatan Ibrahimovich five minutes from time cancelled out an earlier strike from Antonio Cassano as Italy and Sweden played out a 1-1 draw. 

In the final round of fixtures, a 2-1 win for Italy over Bulgaria meant that the Italians finished the group phase unbeaten.  However, a 2-2 draw between Denmark and Sweden meant that they both progressed to the Quarter Finals at the expense of the Italians.

In Group D, the Germans would be drawn against the Czech Republic, Holland and Latvia.  In the opening group fixture, the Czechs defeated Latvia 2-1.  Later that day, Germany played out a 1-1 draw with the old enemy across the border in Holland. 

Four days later, Germany drew 0-0 with Latvia, while the Dutch suffered a 2-3 defeat to the Czech Republic after going two goals up after nineteen minutes. 

Holland finished the group phase with a 3-0 win over Latvia, this would be enough for the Dutch to progress to the Quarter Finals, as the Czech Republic inflicted a 1-2 defeat on the Germans.  For the second Euros in a row, the Germans would not only fail to progress to the knock out stage, but fail to secure a victory also.

Euro 2004 was a rare instance of the English progressing further than the Germans and in the Quarter Finals would meet the hosts Portugal – managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari, who as manager of Brazil would eliminate England in the last eight of the 2002 World Cup.  Michael Owen would put England ahead after just three minutes.  However, on twenty seven minutes England would lose four goal hero Wayne Rooney to injury.  England held out until seven minutes from time, when Spurs stiker Helda Postiga bagged an equaliser for the Portuguese.  Another substitute Rui Costa put Portugal ahead with ten minutes to go in extra time.  Five minutes later however, Frank Lampard saved England with an equaliser.  England would also have a perfectly good goal from Sol Campbell disallowed by referee Urs Meier, which took the game to penalties after a 2-2 draw.

 

David Beckham Skied England’s opening penalty, though another miss from Portugal’s Rui Costa took the shoot out to sudden death.  Darius Vassell saw his penalty saved by Portuguese keeper Ricardo.  Astonishingly, Ricardo popped up again to take Portugal’s winning penalty and put the host side through to the Semi Finals. The fall-out from the referee’s decision however would give rise to one of the earliest instances of internet trolling, after The Sun newspaper published the referee’s email address as an act of vengeance.  This led to numerous death threats which forced Urs Meier into hiding as a result. 

If England's exit on penalties had an air of inevitability about it, another twenty four hours on brought a genuine shock result, as the reigning European Champions France were eliminated by Greece, after suffering a 0-1 defeat in Lisbon, courtesy of a powerful second-half header from Angelos Charisteas which stunned the French.

The next penalty shoot-out drama would come with Holland’s Quarter Final meeting with Sweden at the Estadio Do Algarve.  The match finished in a 0-0 draw after extra time, with Olaf Mellberg missing the all-important penalty for Sweden to put the Dutch into the Semi-Final. 

In the last quarter final, the Czech Republic comprehensively defeated Denmark 3-0. 

Meanwhile, into the Semi-Finals, Portugal secured their passage to the final with a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo and Maniche for a 2-1 victory over Holland, with the Dutch pulled one back with an own goal from Jorge Andrade. 

One day later in Porto, a goal for Traianos Dellas after 105 minutes gave Greece a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic, to put the Greeks through to their first ever international final.  UEFA had learned the lesson of the last two finals which were decided by a golden goal and had killed off a game of football stone dead.  For Euro 2004, the concept was adapted to a 'silver goal', meaning that if a goal went in during the first half of extra time, if no further goals were scored the game would end with the scoring side progressing through to the next round.  The Greeks bagged the deciding goal in time added on during the first period of extra time.    

The tournament’s very last game therefore would be a re-run of the first, between hosts Portugal and the unfancied Greeks.  At Lisbon’s Estadio Da Luz, Greece pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Football history to inflict a 0-1 defeat on Portugal. 

The Greek side of Euro 2004 had little in the way of star players, or even technically gifted players.  They undoubtedly however contained the strongest team unit and obviously became greater than the sum of their parts.  With Athens also hosting that year’s Summer Olympics, 2004 undoubtedly goes down as a memorable year for the Greeks, even if the years ahead for that nation would be far from financially rosy.  On the subject of financial meltdown, 2008 would live on in infamy.  That year also saw a European Football Championships that didn’t contain the England national side. As will be seen next week however, the tournament would still have plenty to write home about, as well as the rise of a new footballing super-power – though previously a sleeping giant – who would bag the first in what would be an historic treble of international tournament wins.

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Published July 13th 2017