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16 October 2014

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The Lisbon Liar
Gordon Sneers
Sunday 4 July 2004



Tough luck EusebioIf anything can come of Greece's odds-defying win against Portugal in the final of the European Championships, it is the smallest possibility that some hope might yet exist for Scotland. It may not seem obvious to the untrained eye, but Scotland and Greece have many things in common. For a start, Scotland are also shite, and are led by a German coach. Unfortunately, the similarity ends there.

Despite this, I'm afraid I can't go along with the popular notion that the Greeks deserved to win this match, let alone the tournament. Call me old-fashioned, but a '10-men-behind-the-ball' policy is simply not entertaining football, no matter how you dress it up. The only reason we're actually being force-fed such piffle is because Portugal defeated England en route to the final, and, as a result, Greece were always going to be considered the 'home team' by our national broadcasters. In reality, it was akin to watching Inverness Caley Thistle face Celtic in the second round of the CIS Cup in Glasgow - it seemed, to me, that a shock was always on the cards.

However, win it they did, and the history books of international football will never be the same again. You only need to take a look at the scalps Greece bagged on their way to picking up the trophy, if you need confirmation of their status: the holders, the hosts - and the emergent tournament favourites.

Not for the first time in this competition, the final wasn't the greatest of games. A slow start gave way to some Luis Figo magic near the 10-minute mark, when the Real Madrid man went on a mazy run into the Greece box and earned a corner, which resulted in Pauleta testing the Greek keeper, Antonis Nikopolidis, with a powering drive.

Moments later, Costinha earned himself a yellow card for a rough tackle on Giorgios Seitaridis, but the Greeks failed to convert the resulting free-kick on the edge of the box.

The Portuguese had the early share of the chances, but Greece executed a marvellous German-built containment plan, and were swift to break in midfield, but didn't really threaten at the other end. On 20 minutes, John Motson sneaked in a reference to 1966, then Maniche struck from distance, but his effort went narrowly wide.

In the second half, Portugal stepped up a gear, but the Greeks proved difficult to break down, even when little Deco started his famous diving-in-the-box routine, only to be repeatedly waved away by the German referee, Markus Merk, lucky to avoid a caution.

The only goal of the game arrived near the hour mark, when Angelos Basinas flighted in a corner and Werder Bremen striker Angelos Charisteas guided a superb free header past Ricardo to open the Greece account.

Hope for the hosts arrived in the shape of substitute Rui Costa, but the veteran midfielder couldn't muster up the strength to influence his side or find that desperately-needed equaliser. A blazing run by wonderkind Cristiano Ronaldo contributed to the intensive pressure in the final 15 minutes, but the young lad struck his effort from six yards out, only to see the ball float over the bar.

The game was interrupted with five minutes left to play, when the renowned performance artiste Jimmy Jump invaded the pitch and threw himself headlong into the goals at one end of the pitch. Unfortunately for Portugal, he was the only moving object to cross the Greek goal-line all night.

Merk sounded the end with a full 95 minutes showing on the clock, and the Greek fans went into overdrive as Ronaldo and Co. put on a display of tears before bedtime, paying the ultimate price of having a substitute keeper in their squad with the unlikely name of Quim.

The legendary Portuguese striker Eusebio dished out medals to the winners with a towel draped bizarrely across the shoulders of his suit, and the home fans applauded their brave players, who probably feel that they played the better football on the night.

But, as we all know, it's results that count - and Greece can now call themselves the European Champions and the holders of the Harry Delaney trophy for the next four years.

One thing seems certain now: as the celebrations run on in the Mediterranean, that Olympic staduim in Athens will probably never be completed on time.

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