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No standing on ceremony

Published: Sunday 13 June 2004, 0.54CET
It was not meant to be like this - what was meant to be Portugal's day turned into a celebration for the visiting Greeks.
by Simon Hart
from Porto
Published: Sunday 13 June 2004, 0.54CET

No standing on ceremony

It was not meant to be like this - what was meant to be Portugal's day turned into a celebration for the visiting Greeks.

It was not meant to be like this. This was supposed to be Portugal's day. Five years after surprising neighbours Spain by winning the chance to host their first major sporting event - a period which brought the construction of ten gleaming stadiums - today was supposed to be a celebration.

'Forbidden not to party'
Portugal were kicking off UEFA EURO 2004™ at the Estádio do Dragão, the home of the new European club champions, FC Porto. And according to this morning's edition of A Bola, the biggest-selling sports daily here: "Today it is forbidden not to party, not to smile, and - if we can say this - not to win."

Greek smiles
At the end of their opening Group A fixture against Greece, however, the only smiles were on the faces of Greece's players and fans. Goals early in each half from Georgios Karagounis and Angelos Basinas, the latter a penalty, had brought the Greeks a 2-1 victory, their first win in any finals tournament - and left Portugal with the unwanted record of becoming the first host team to lose the tournament's opening game since the tradition began in 1984.

Hosts' anxiety
Like a sour uncle bursting the balloons at a children's party, Greece could not have done a better job of flattening the mood. Fernando Couto had admitted to "a degree of anxiety" ahead of this match and this showed as Greece seized the initiative to silence the home fans.

Victory confirmed
Angelos Charisteas had already kicked thin air when placed invitingly in front of goal before, seven minutes in, Karagounis advanced towards the Portuguese goal and directed a low shot past Ricardo from 20 metres. By the time Basinas made it two from the penalty spot five minutes after the break, it was evident just why this well-organised Greece side had gone 15 matches unbeaten until recently.

Flag day
Portugal, who pulled back a late goal through substitute Cristiano Ronaldo's header, must now regroup ahead of their second game against Russia on Wednesday. What they will not be lacking is support, despite the whistles that greeted full-time here. Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had asked the country to show their support by flying the national flag and in recent days getting hold of one has proved near impossible.

Colourful sight
Even yesterday's issue of the sober weekly newspaper Expresso included a free Portugal flag - and sold 180,000 copies. They were hanging with the washing from apartment buildings beside the Dragão - and inside the stands too were coloured red and green, save for one defiant corner of Greece fans.

Countdown to kick-off
The screens behind each goal counted down to kick-off and at -48 minutes, a wave of noise engulfed the stadium as the home players took the field to warm up. The 1980s hit 'Everybody wants to rule the world' was playing over the tannoy but for these players, Europe would do just fine.

Opening ceremony
The opening ceremony began 15 minutes before kick-off and recalled Portugal's seafaring past. The green pitch became a sea of blue as hundreds of figures in blue jumpsuits draped the turf in shining sheets. Weaving their way in and out of the blue were different fishes and at the centre of it all stood a 15th-century sailing ship, a mock 'Caravela' of the kind which sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas during Portugal's age of discovery. Adding to the colour were the fans in the stands shaking blue, red and silver pompoms.

Atmosphere punctured
Next the blue sheets were turned over to reveal the flags of the 16 competing nations. Kinas, the tournament's mascot, made his obligatory appearance, there were flag-waving children in national team shirts and the tournament logo was reproduced in the centre circle. The atmosphere reached a crescendo as the Portuguese anthem played before kick-off, and tens of thousands of Portugal scarves were held aloft. But then the football went and spoiled it all for the hosts.

Last updated: 13/06/04 13.26CET

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