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"Generally speaking, when you play in the opening match of a tournament the feeling is great." These are the words of Giorgos Karagounis, and as the scorer of the first goal at UEFA EURO 2004, just seven minutes into Greece's shock win over Portugal, he is certainly a man who should know.
The Panathinaikos FC midfielder, now 35, is happy to dwell on the memories of that victory as he prepares for his country's repeat challenge against Poland in Friday's UEFA EURO 2012 curtain-raiser. "For us this is the second time that it's happened," Karagounis told UEFA.com. "Of course, we have good memories from the tournament in Portugal eight years ago, and I hope we manage to do the same. Playing in the opening match of the tournament is great for us.
"It was like a party," he added. "We were on the bus and all these people were on the streets or on their balconies. We had a really great time, and it's how football and European tournaments should be. On the pitch, the atmosphere was great and both the Greek and Portuguese fans contributed to that. Everything was positive for us and for me especially, with scoring the first goal of the tournament."
That victory in Porto was the launchpad for Greece's unlikely UEFA EURO 2004 adventure – a triumphant journey sealed when they beat the Portuguese again in the final. They were massive underdogs then and the same applies again now, despite an unbeaten qualifying campaign which left them top of their group ahead of Croatia.
Karagounis is perfectly happy to prove people wrong. "The same thing happened in 2004, and we ended up winning the tournament. All that is pure theory, it's not uncommon for experts to make wrong predictions. We know our potential, we don't expect others to tell us our advantages or deficiencies," he said. "
We're not so interested in knowing what predictions the experts make about us. We're focused on our job, on what we believe, and if we truly have faith in our potential, we can achieve a lot of things."
This is the third successive EURO for Greece which Karagounis considers a success in itself, noting: "The main objective for our team is to participate in all the big tournaments." And the experiences gained, he believes, should help Fernando Santos's squad deal with what will be a baptism of fire at the National Stadium Warsaw on Friday.
"Sure, there's pressure, since we know that we're playing at the finals, and all eyes will be on us, both at home and all over the world," Karagounis said. "What's more, this is the opening match, so there will be even more exposure. Without any doubt there's pressure, there will be stress, but it will be of a creative kind. We'll want to go out on the pitch and give our best, especially since these are the finals, which take place every four years."
Against a host team wound up by their supporters, it will be imperative that Greece stay "focused", he added. Karagounis does not underplay the challenge, but he has a wish to give his own countrymen something to smile about. "We shouldn't forget that Poland will have the support of 50,000 fans. But as for our team, we believe in our strength, although we aren't playing at home. We also know that all the Greeks will be watching the games, and will want us to make them happy, especially these days.
"What we can do is try to do our best, despite the difficulty – it's not at all easy to face the host team of the tournament, definitely." Not easy but not impossible either, as Karagounis has already proved once before.
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