Otto Rehhagel and his Hellenes break the bank


Posted today at 6:00 am

Hold-up, robbery or breakage of the century. These terms are more reminiscent of Ronnie Biggs, the author of the Glasgow-London postal train attack in 1963, or Albert Spaggiari, burglar of the Société Générale de Nice in 1976, than of the way in which Greece conquered the european football championship in 2004. But, unlike the bankruptcy of the Nice bank, the identity of the brain is beyond doubt this July 4, in Lisbon, at the Luz stadium. At 65, Otto Rehhagel did not take the time, in three years, to learn Greek to detail his plan. The coach communicates in German and lets the rare German speakers in his group provide translation for the others.

Angelos Charisteas (second from right) after the goal that gave Greece the victory of the Euro on July 4, 2005 in Lisbon.

After all, his football does not bother with big theories. Too bad for the clichés, Rehhagel loves sweat and discipline. Even in the country of democracy, he applies the strongman regime. Him, preferably. "I am only comfortable if I have absolute control of the situation", assumes the former Werder Bremen coach.

Taste once to victory

Its players do not complain and find an identity in this game of sacrifice, malice and collective intelligence. With this austerity program, the Hellenic selection exploded its glass ceiling, that of a second-tier selection unable to win a match in a final phase of an international tournament in two appearances (during Euro 1980 and the disastrous 1994 World Cup).

Guided by the modest ambition of tasting victory once, the Greeks beat Portugal (2-1) petrified by the stake for the opening of their Euro, then eliminated two of the favorites, France and the Czech Republic, to to open the doors of the final with great blows of 1-0.

The plan is basic, but effective. Greece defends low, very low, leaves the ball to the opponent, Rehhagel brings out the individual marking of the museum and dust the Libero against the French and the Czechs with the immense Traïanos Dellas (1.96 m). "Football is always learned, but 1.90 m is not something you can learn", explains the German about his taste for defenders cut like volleyball.

And then size matters, especially when the offensive strategy works with set kicks. In the semi-finals, Dellas nods in overtime to send the Czechs to the pantheon of artists never crowned.

Charisteas' head and Ronaldo's tears

It’s hard to imagine better warned than the Portuguese. For counter a ghostly Pauleta in attack, Rehhagel aligns a defense to four as in the first round. For the rest, nothing is moving despite the absence of suspended Captain Theodoros Zagorakis. Its partners once again transform the lawn into a large chessboard. They bet on this mixture of excitement and superiority complex in an adversary persuaded in the background – like the French and the Czechs before – to be more beautiful, talented and legitimate.

At playtime, the trap closes, relentless. Already a goal scorer, head against France, Angelos Charisteas ahead of goalkeeper Ricardo (subtly embarrassed by Zisis Vryzas) on a corner kick taken by Angélos Basinas, his future teammate during their sad stint at Arles-Avignon in 2010.

Portugal is groggy, attacking with the clumsiness of the condemned, but the attempts of Luis Figo and Maniche end, magnetized, in the gloves of Antonios Nikopolidis. "It’s a miracle, perhaps the greatest sporting miracle of the XXIe century, even dares the distant Greek double of George Clooney questioned by So Foot. What we did, nobody believed it, not even us. "

This July 4, Cristiano Ronaldo, 19, is crying for a whole country when Zagorakis raises the Henri-Delaunay Cup. The Greek captain recovers the trophy for best player in the tournament. As a symbol, the midfielder is the author of the most tackles during this Euro.

The critics on their game or the opinion of the esthetes, the winners do not hear them. The summer of 2004 promises to be magnificent, one or two more paintwork and Athens will host the Olympic Games for the first time in 108 years. The crisis can still wait.

Find our selection of matches that marked the Euro


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