Another boring shutout!

Associated Press

Lisbon, July 5:

Upstart Greece won soccer’s European title on Sunday. It may have put European soccer back 40 years. Devoid of the sort of star talent that fills grounds and thrills big TV audiences, Otto Rehhagel’s team of workhorses beat Portugal 1-0 in the Euro 2004 final to capture European soccer’s biggest prize. The fact that Greece had never won a game at a major championship before makes the achievement that much more amazing. But if more teams decide to copy the same spoiling system, putting defence first and taking all the color out of the game, then soccer has a bleak future. The Greeks resembled Italian teams of the 1960s and ‘70s, with eight or nine men chasing back to defend and hoping to sneak a goal on the break. They managed to beat the Portuguese twice, including 2-1 in the opening game of Group A, then knocked out defending champion France and ousted the Czech Republic, widely regarded the best team in the championship, in the semi-final.

While the last Euros four years ago had plenty of attacking soccer and was won by the most talented team in the world, this one was won by a side that is happy to eke out 1-0 victories.

Twice Portugal’s talented players tried to break them down and failed. Luis Felipe Scolari, who guided Brazil to a fifth World Cup two years ago, knows how to handle the best players in the world. He still couldn’t beat pesky Greece. Neither could the defending champion French. Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry were unable to knock down the Greek brick defensive wall and lost the title after a 1-0 loss in the quarter-finals. After 10 goals in four games, the talented Czech Republic team had the players to end the surprising Greek run. They lost 1-0 in the semi-final, starved of chances and hit by an extra time silver goal with just seconds to spare. When it was Portugal’s turn again in the final, Rehhagel made sure that Real Madrid star Luis Figo always had two men to beat while Giourkas Seitaradis stifled Manchester United’s teenage sensation Cristiano Ronaldo on the other flank.

When the only goal of the game came in the 57th minute, it wasn’t even a surprise. It was an action replay of the Traianos Dellas’ goal that beat the Czechs. It was economy class soccer with the tournament demanding better. Rehhagel is unrepentant about the way his team plays. His argument is that results count and Greece hasn’t conceded a goal in 343 minutes.

“What happened here is that the Greek team wrote soccer history, and I hope this reverberates in Greece,” said Rehhagel. Scolari was generous in his praise and said his own team still had plenty to achieve after losing its first final. Greeks will be European Champion for four years although they still have to qualify for the next championship co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland in 2008. After this, Rehhagel may be tempted by offers from elsewhere, especially with Germany looking for a successor to Rudi Voeller who quit after his team’s first round flop.

Five Greeks in all-star squad

Lisbon: Five members of the winning Greek team were included in the squad of the best players of Euro 2004 chosen by UEFA on Monday. Goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, defenders Traianos Dellas and Georgios Seitaridis, captain Theodoros Zagorakis — who was also voted the player of the tournament — and Angelos Charisteas, the goalscorer in the 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final, were all named in the 23-man squad. Portugal contributed defender Ricardo Carvalho, attacking midfielder Maniche, the veteran Luis Figo and 19-year-old Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo. For beaten quarter-finalists England, defenders Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell and midfielder Frank Lampard were named as well as the sensation of the tournament, 18-year-old striker Wayne Rooney. Czech striker Milan Baros earned his place after finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with five goals while Zinedine Zidane was the only French player to impress after an ill-starred defence of their title ended at the hands of Greece in the quarter-finals. — AFP