Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro 2004 (Portugal)

The Euros rocked around again in 2004 with UEFA now bloating the Champions League out to 32 teams domestically but thankfully they left the amount of sides in the Euros at just 16 with the same format. Sunny Portugal would host the party this time around in eight venues spread up and down the peninsula with a lot of the construction sprucing up the stadiums putting clubs in to debt. Portugal were aiming to become the ironic Brazil of Europe appearing in a heap of Nike advertisements with the Brazilian stars and signing their 2002 World Cup Winning Coach Felipe Scolari and even Brazilian-born Porto star Deco sorting him out a Portuguese passport.  The side had gone to the 2002 World Cup as a fancied chance but crashed and burned but had now matured around their captain Luis Figo and had just introduced the young Man United star Christiano Ronaldo in to their ranks. Domestically Portugal had also been doing very well with Jose Mourinho’s Porto side winning the champions league just prior to the tournament. Portuguese football was most definitely in vogue.

 

The mascot this time around was a boyish humanoid looking chap called Kinas who was a play on the name of the Portugual’s flag “Bandiera das Quinas.”

 

QUALIFICATION

 

The Euros would be joined by first timers Latvia this time around. The former Soviet satellite state upset Turkey in the play offs getting a golden ticket. Greece were also back in their first tournament since the 1994 World Cup still not having ever won a game in a tournament and at odds of a staggering 90/1 to win Euro 2004. The Greeks had qualified under the German task master Otto Rehhagel by defending deeply and getting teams on the counter with a team successful from stoic teamwork and trust rather than flashy individual brilliance. Rehhagal made the players commit to country before club with the squad normally split by cliques related to clubs. In qualifying they didn’t lose a game for 15 matches including winning in Spain.

 

Apart from that all the usual suspects were back.

 

 

THE GROUP STAGE

 

Portugal would kick off proceedings in GROUP A against the Greeks in Porto. Also joining them in the group would be Spain and Russia. After the usual cringeworthy opening ceremony the Portuguese hadn’t even adjusted their novelty hates and got a corporate sponsored beer before Greece took a shock lead when a wayward pass was pounced on by Karagounis and his run and finish were sublime with just 6 minutes gone. It could have been 2-0 before half time when another stray pass went straight to Greece. In the second half Christiano Ronaldo was unleashed but all he did initially was give away penalty in the 51st minutes that was scored by Basinas to make it 2-0. The hosts seemed lost but did give a little bit of hope in the final minutes thanks to Ronaldo heading in from a corner but Greece had caused a massive upset in the opening game winning their first ever game at a tournament with Portugal showing the same questionable form that had been there at the 2002 World Cup. In the other match to open this group Spain defeated Russia 1-0.

 

In the second lot of games Spain took a first half lead against Greece where it seemed that normal service would resume for the outsiders but nicked a point in a 1-1 draw when Angelos Charisteas scored one of this trademark headers in the second half. Not bad for a player much maligned in Germany and only used as a sub for Werder Bremen in a season where they won the league. Portugal were off the mark in Lisbon defeating Russia and eliminating them early 2-0 with an early and late goal. The final set of games would be tense to say the least. Portugal needed at least a point and would take on arch rivals Spain while at the same time Greece would take on a Russian side playing for pride. Nuno Gomes, a star at Euro 2000 but had since lost his form after moving to Italy, came off the bench in a tense Iberian Derby to score near the hour mark and win the game for Portugal. In the other game on at the same time Russia defeated Greece 2-1 but Greece eeked past Spain on the table despite having the same win-loss-draw record and goal difference but the Greeks had ironically scored more goals. Not bad for a team that supposedly never scored. The underdogs went through with Portugal. Spain had blown it again despite their unquestionable talent.

 

GROUP B was a challenging group for all concerned. Not only were there reigning champions France but also Switzerland, a rebuilding Croatia and England. The English were now under Sven Goran Erikkson and after a decent World Cup in 2002 had a new crop of alleged ‘golden generation’ players including Gerrard, Hargreaves, Lampard and Cole while also taking the risk in taking along the unproven Everton 18 year old Wayne Rooney who looked like his head was still growing in to his face but his talent couldn’t be questioned. The side was also now captained by Real Madrid’s David Beckham who had his brand all around the world even if he wasn’t exactly the world’s best player by a long shot. He also now featured a different hair cut each week and had more tattoos than Chris Masten and a travelling gypsy boxer combined.

 

In the opening match of this group England took on France in Lisbon and England were pinned down by Zidane’s dominance in the middle but went ahead in the first half thanks to a header from Lampard following a free kick. A complete sucker punch. With 20 minutes left and England under siege they broke down the other end of the pitch with Rooney using a burst of youthful pace to bear down on goal and taken out for a penalty by Silvestre. The boy could play. Beckham was to take the penalty despite missing his last for England and saw his excellent shot low and to the right saved brilliantly by Barthez. France still lived. With 90 minutes gone it was still 1-0 but in time added on France won a free kick in a dangerous area that was put away by Zidane who deservedly had it back to 1-1. A point was still good for England against such a top side though but then Gerard gave the ball away in a complete brainfart that resulted Henry through on goal. James tackled Henry giving away a penalty that was scored by Zidane to give France a remarkable win and have England questioning what had just happened. In the other opening game of the group it was a drab 0-0 draw between Croatia and Switzerland.

 

In the second lot of games in this group England would taken on the Swiss and were desperate for a win. Rooney and the rest of the starting XI were trusted to start again and smashed the Swiss 3-0, Rooney announcing his arrival as a star in only his third game for England scoring a double. In the other match it was a seesawing game of wonderful entertainment finishing 2-2 after Croatia fought back from 1-0 to lead but Euro 2000 hero David Trezuguet rescued a point for the champions. In the final lot of games all England needed was a draw against Croatia to advance but again showed attacking flair to slay their opponents, this time 4-2. Despite being down 1-0 early they were back equal through Scholes before Rooney again starred scoring a double wheeling off in a cartwheel celebration for one goal. Could he do that now? Very much doubtful. France topped the group going through with England after a 3-1 win over the Swiss with superstar Theirry Henry finally off the mark with a double.

 

Looking back at GROUP C some would think the Scandinavians perhaps colluded a little with Sweden and Denmark joined by Italy and Bulgaria. The Danes and Italy kicked things off with a fierce 0-0 draw. In the aftermath of the draw Italy’s star man Francesco Totti was banned for two games for spitting. Sweden were brilliant against Bulgaria winning 5-0 to take charge in the group. The Swedes were flying with Arsenal star Freddie Ljunberg on the wing, led by Olof Mellberg from the back and up front was Celtic legend Henrik Larsson and the then 23 year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was already developing an arrogant self-obsessed aura around him. Larsson’s athletic header in this match was particularly stunning and one of the goals of the tournament.

 

For the second games in this group Denmark eliminated the dissapointing Bulgarians 2-0 while in Porto fans were treated to a classic between Sweden and Italy. The game was a tight and engaging as both teams were involved in a chess like game with tactics before the generally regarded bat shit mental Antonio Cassano scored near half time. Sweden could not get the equaliser with the game end to end and thrilling for the neutral but with five minutes to go Zlatan got the goal with an audacious throwing of the boot at the ball after Larsson’s trickey almost carved out a goal. To this day I still cannot describe it’s audaciousness, it’s brilliance, it’s Zlatanesque originality. Just watch the video..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Nc2HxLeM74

 

In the final group games Italy would need to hope to beat Bulgaria and then someone win the other match outright. The Italians did their bit beating Bulgaria 2-1 with a last minute winner but in the other match the Swedes struck very late to draw the game 2- 2 with Denmark and send both teams through condemning the Italians to elimination due to goal difference. Perhaps the Azzurri were still smarting about the opening match but they threw the toys out of the pram following the game claiming a Scandinavian conspiracy and that Denmark wanted them out conceding a late goal.GROUP D was very much the group of death. Holland were in with their bitter rivals Germany and a Czech Republic team featuring the Juve star Pavel Nedved and other talent beyond belief. Latvia would make up the numbers. The opening match was the grudge match that saw a 1-1 draw between Holland and Germany. In the other opening match the Czechs had to come back from 1-0 down to beat Latvia 2-1. Germany were in trouble after their second game after failing to defeat Latvia in a 0-0 draw but bigger headlines would be in the Holland v Czech Republic showdown in Aveiro in what is seen as one of the great games ever seen at the Euros. Holland were cruising after 20 minutes up 2-0 with the Man United star Ruud Van Nistelroy lethal but this Czech team were irrepressible. Koller had it back to 2-1 and then in the second half it kicked up another notch with Van Nistelroy denied a certain penalty and the Dutch and Czechs both having massive chances. In the 71st minute Liverpool youngster Milan Baros lashed in a wonderful volley and one of the goals of the tournament to make it 2-2. The Czechs were all over Holland now and after a heap of chances that were denied by Van Der Sar or the woodwork they finally broke through with two minutes left when a saved shot wasn’t cleared and Vladimir Smicer (another Liverpool player) pounced. A game for the ages sending the Czech Republic through.

 

Germany had to win in their final match to guarantee they would be through to the quarter finals taking on an already qualified Czech Republic. Their star man and captain Michael Ballack made it 1-0 after 21 minutes but then the Czechs equalised shortly after and hit a winner with 13 to go. In the other game Holland easily defeated Latvia 3-0 to advance at the expense of the three time champs Germany who would again sack a coach and have a serious look at why they had failed.

THE QUARTER FINALS

 

The first quarter final was the most anticipated between England and the hosts Portugal at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon. Portugal again could not adjust to the tremendous home atmosphere much like against Greece when a wayward pass was swooped on by Michael Owen who used tremendous skill, athleticism and foresight to score a quite spectacular goal after only five minutes; the little England at the end of the pitch were in raptures. From here the game turned in to a stalemate with a chance each but not much else as the fans turned on their heroes on the pitch for the Portuguese seeing their home advantage turned in to a headache. Time was running out and subs were made including the much maligned Spurs striker Helder Postiga coming on for the hosts, his 1 goals in 19 games in England showing that perhaps he wasn’t that much of a threat. This was England though and of course it was Postiga to make it 1-1 with seven minutes left heading in a wonderful cross.

 

In the extra time the golden goal rule had been squashed meaning it would be 30 minutes no matter what. Owen hit the bar and the resulting goal from Campbell was ruled off for a foul on the keeper before the veteran AC Milan star Rui Costa made a darting run in the 110th minute and scored a stunning goal the bring the house down. 2-1 Portugal. Time ticked away as Portugal looked to kill off the tie but against the run of play England won a corner that was smashed in by Lampard after a head down by Terry to let the folk back home to get another pint in and take the game to penalties. Beckham would go first with England winning the toss. The Real Madrid superstar with a countless net worth somehow put shot way over the bar blaming the pitch for his embarrassing blunder. Rui Costa also blew his shot which evened up the shootout as it went to 4-4 and sudden death. The two sides exchanged shots again before the English striker Darius Vassell had his shot saved by a gloveless Portuguese keeper Ricardo. All Portugal had to do now was score the next penalty and it would be the keeper Ricardo to take it. It was questionable and at the same time novel when a keeper took a penalty but Ricardo’s was the best of the night the shot hard and to the keeper’s right sealing the win for Portugal and sending the English out yet again on penalties.

 

In the other quarter finals there were more headlines. The champions France were seen as favourites for the title with an impeccable team strong all over the pitch but then they came across Greece who had never beaten them in their history. With Vieria injured and other players lacking form Greece controlled the game only letting the French get two half chances. In the 65th minute Lizarazu was caught out as the Greeks attacked down the right with Zagorakis having all the time the world to put the cross on to the head of Charisteas to make it 1-0. A lead they kept until full time sending the champions out in a major shock.

 

In the other quarterfinals Holland and the Swedes was another hotly anticipated clash but was an arm-wrestle for 120 minutes with Sweden denied by Van Der Sar. It was the world class keeper that saved the Dutch in the shootout too saving the captain Mellberg’s shot to take the Dutch to the semi finals and a clash with Portugal. In the final quarter final the Czechs continued to scorch the earth as they went in this tournament belting Denmark 3-0 with Baros scoring a double.

 

THE SEMI FINALS

 

Portugal would take on Holland in the first semi final at a white hot Stadium of Light. After barely surviving the group and then England in the quarter finals they were all over Holland and were ahead on 26 minutes thanks to Christiano Ronaldo’s header that was followed with the subsequent shirt off here’s my six pack love celebration that we know him for today. In the second half again it was all the hosts and 2-0 on the hour when Maniche scored a thunder bastard of a curling shot and one of THE goals at the Euros. This had the stadium rocking but Portugal wasn’t going to make it easy for themselves when an own goal brought it back to 2-1. Holland and huffed and puffed and apart from almost scoring from a free kick could not find that second goal after being gifted a first. Portugal would be in their first ever major final.

 

In the other semi final the very much in form Czechs with their substantial waves of attack would crash up against the rocks of that Greek defence. It seemed as though the Czechs would slay the history making Greeks with Rosicky hitting the cross bar after only two minutes and then another chance tested the Greek defence but they survived. A turning point of sorts happened when Nedved went off injured shortly before half time meaning the Czechs were robbed of the midfielder the team was built around. The industry and commitment of the Greeks was not on top of the Czechs who had possession but could had no time and space to do anything with it. It would be extra time. Still the Czechs laboured as Greece lapped up the pressure. Then shortly before half time in extra time Vassilios Tsiartas swung over a corner, and Dellas nipped in to steer in a header at the near post and send the Greeks and their fans into ecstasy. Fans from Brunswick to the 100,000 in the Omonia Square in Athens celebrated as one. Greece held on were somehow in a final defying all expectations. A brilliant Czech side just couldn’t get the job done and the great tragedy of Euro 2004.

THE FINAL

 

Despite their heroics and proof they could play effective football Greece were still rank underdogs against Portugal. The final would be played in Lisbon with 15,000 in blue and white at one end of the pitch, the Greek fans arriving hours before kick off trying to take it all in and rid themselves of the disbelief. The team bus for Greece had on the side:

 

“Ancient Greece has 12 gods. Modern Greece has 11”

 

The romance of this side wasn’t felt for the most part though. The English press claimed that if Greece won the final then a tear would roll down the face of beautiful football. This game was also historic for the fact the final would feature the same two sides that opened the tournament a few weeks beforehand. Portugal would go in to the game unchanged while Greece had to make one change with their midfield talisman Georgios Karagounis suspended.

 

Greece, unsurprisingly, defended from the get go but Portugal almost made their way through with Deco twice almost getting a shot away to score. The Greek keeper Nikopolidis also came off his line to clear one chance as Portugal continued to try and hammer down the door as the first half ended with Deco and Ronaldo particularly dangerous. Greece blocked another shot early in the first half before they shocked the world again and took the lead in the 57th minute and again it was the club bench warmer Charisteas who headed in a Basinas corner to send the white shirt brigade at the end of the stadium in to a frothing frenzy. Rui Costa was subbed on as Portugal went all out attack. Nuno Gomes also came on trying to capture his form from four years ago but Greece never wilted repelling any attack. Then with a few minutes to go a ball found Ronaldo only six yards out and able to take a shot but he was offbalance and skied his attempt deflating the home fans, the players, the bench and anyone else hoping to see an attacking team win the title. Greece had won 1-0 and until this year with Leicester City had caused the biggest upset in World Football.

 

Greek communities around Australia and the World were ecstatic. News crews were in Melbourne to capture the celebrations from the ex pats who could just forget about their commitment to the Socceroos just for a little while. The team came back to a heroes welcome with one player managing to just sneak home in time to get married assuming that he would be home already when booking the date because Greece wouldn’t still be at the Euros. For Portugal and their formidable side they had failed in front of their own fans in their biggest chance to ever win silverware. Ronaldo was inconsolable. Figo cancelled his retirement plans to push on to the 2006 World Cup. The ‘Portuguese man-o-war’ Eusebio put on a brave face when helping give out the winners medals to the Greeks.

 

The debates about whether Greek deserved the win and if it was good for the game still continue today. A remarkable story for such underdogs to win when there were so many brilliant teams and players in the 2004 edition of this wonderful competition. Euro 2004 was again the best installment so far with the highest amount of goals per average, record crowds, so many goals that were peaches they could fill a can and a memorable champion.

 

CHAMPIONS – Greece (1st title)

 

RUNNER UP – Portugal

 

GOLDEN BOOT – Milan Baros. 5 goals. The 22 year old Liverpool striker was very sharp at Euro 2004 topped off with his stunning goal against Holland. A shame he never went on with his career at club level but was decent for the Czechs.

 

SACRED COW – Pavel Nedved. The Juve midfielder was a veteran by 2004 but still one of the best in Europe. The dashing blonde was interpretive to the Czechs success that unfortunately was proven when his injury in the semi final contributed to their loss to Greece.

 

DUNCE HATS – Spain again were seemingly just there to make up the numbers despite having the pick of players from two of the biggest clubs in the world. Raul, Puyol, Alonso, Xavi, Inesta. Need to go on? Casillas, Montieres, Helguera and it keeps going. The coach Saez was sacked and Spain were to start on a new development that would change the course of their history.

 

Previous articles in the series…

Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro 2000 (Holland/Belgium)

Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’96 (England)

Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’92 (Sweden)

Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’88 (West Germany)

Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’84 (France)

Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’80 (Italy)

Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’76 (Yugoslavia)

Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros: Euro ’72 (Belgium)

Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros-Euro ’68 (Italy)

Let’s Look Back at the Euros-Euro ’64 (Spain)

 

Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros-Euro ’60 (France)

 

 

 

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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