Although the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) was founded in 1926, football had been extremely popular in Greece from the last decade of the 19th century, with Athens side Panionios GSS being formed in 1890. What prompted the EPO's somewhat belated arrival was that the leading clubs were beginning to expand their activities and wanted to play competitions at national level.
The new organisation quickly assumed a catalytic role in the development of the Greek game. The EPO needed just a year to become a member of FIFA and, during the same period, the first-division championship became a reality. However, as elsewhere in Europe, the national tournaments were halted by the Second World War. Come peacetime, football was again a major priority for the population, and it required only a short-term adjustment before the sport could recover its place of prominence.
The EPO became a founder member of UEFA in 1954. By respecting both the European governing body and its rules, the EPO has always tried to assist in efforts aimed at the sport's growth, not solely in Greece but across the continent. Entering the second decade of the 21st century, the EPO had more than 5,773 teams under its aegis. With most operating as amateurs, 3,700 of these clubs were active in official championships at all levels and age groups. Recent years, in particular, have seen rapid progress, and many of the country's football stadiums are being modernised to meet UEFA specifications.
The professional championship comprises three divisions: Super League, Division B and Division C. The amateur division D is also played nationwide; here it is mandatory for teams to field at least four players aged under 20 for the sake of youth advancement. Division C sides must deploy at least two Under-21 players. The national cup competition, involving only professional clubs, starts with single matches in the first four rounds; in the event of a draw, extra time and, if needed, a penalty shoot-out will ensue. In the round of 16, replays are used to separate teams where required. The quarter-finals and semi-finals are played over home and away legs.
Greek clubs, led by Olympiacos FC and Panathinaikos FC, have been a constant presence in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League in latter years. Panathinaikos reached the European Champion Clubs' Cup final in 1971, going down to AFC Ajax, and on two further occasions got as far as the semi-finals (1984/85 and 1995/96). Olympiacos, AEK Athens FC, Panionios and Larissa FC have also performed with distinction in UEFA competition.
However, it is Greece's triumph at UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal which represents the pinnacle of the country's footballing achievement as well as a huge source of national pride. Otto Rehhagel's charges overcame the Portuguese hosts thanks to a solitary Angelos Charisteas goal in the Lisbon final. Including the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012, where Fernando Santos's men progressed to the quarter-finals, the senior side have contested the final round of six major tournaments – two World Cups and four UEFA European Championships, including each of the last three.
The U21 team have been losing finalists in two UEFA European U21 Championships, in 1988 and 1998, having always been one of the continent's most respected squads. The U19s followed their example by marching to the 2007 European final, succumbing only to Spain. Women's football and futsal have also taken great strides forward, with the progress of Greece's teams giving further cause for optimism.
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