A special date is looming for Panagiotis Fyssas, technical director of the Greek Football Federation (EPO). He celebrates his birthday on 12 June – a day that also gave him one of his favourite football memories when he appeared in Greece's opening-match win against Portugal at UEFA EURO 2004. He sat down with UEFA.com to recall that heady summer, and also discuss the present and future of Greek football.
UEFA.com: Looking back to 12 June 2004, what are your memories of that first match?
Panagiotos Fyssas: It was one of the best birthdays of my life. Our great victory in the opening match was what I remember, but combined with my birthday, it was even better. Our dream was to go out on to the pitch and achieve something we had never achieved in previous years. I'm sure you'll understand that winning a EURO match – something we had never done before – and taking part in a EURO for the first time since 1980, after a 24-year absence, is something that gave me a lot of happiness, and confidence for the matches to come.
UEFA.com: What was the secret of that Greece team's success?
Fyssas: As time goes by, people understand that there weren't that many secrets involved. We all managed to offer an outstanding contribution for a month. No one wanted to stand out from their team-mates performance-wise – we had a team spirit, we did everything for the sake of the team.
When there is self-sacrifice combined with passion, when you play for your country and everybody manages to perform outstandingly, when your feel like you're flying, and you manage to achieve a victory like that in the opening match, it's not about luck.
UEFA.com: You were an SL Benfica player at the time – what was it like stepping out in your club ground for the final?
Fyssas: Sometimes, as I grow older, I wonder how I can still remember it all, but it will never fade away. When I moved to Benfica that January, I could never have imagined that six months later I would go out on to the pitch to play in the final.
I remember telling my team-mates that we would not manage to play at Da Luz, because as we looked at how the tournament panned out with the fixtures, we saw that we would play there if we got to the final. I'm sure you'll understand when I say that none of us believed that was realistic.
UEFA.com: Giorgios Karagounis is one of the squad's three survivors of 2004. What does the captain bring to the team?
Fyssas: The truth is that Giorgios sets an example. His whole career has been shaped by his role for the national team. He has played over 100 matches for our other teams and has an additional 117 caps for the seniors. This alone tells us a lot about him and everyone can see what an important player he is.
What makes him stand out and keep impressing me is the passion he shows at every training session – his passion, energy and will to win every one of the team's matches. He never thinks the years have gone by and he has given everything he could possibly give to the team, he never feels finished. That is incredible, I honestly believe he could go on playing for another 200 years.
UEFA.com: At the other end of the age spectrum is Kyriakos Papadopoulos. How impressed are you by him?
Fyssas: Kyriakos Papadopoulos really is a very talented player. He has tremendous self-confidence. He works very hard and very few players are as gifted. He's a valuable addition to the team [and] plays for a very good club [FC Schalke 04] in a great domestic league, the Bundesliga. I'm sure that in the next few years this young man will make history in the men's team. I believe that he and the rest of the young players will be the backbone of the team for years to come.
UEFA.com: How has the Greece squad changed since Fernando Santos replaced Otto Rehhagel as coach?
Fyssas: Each coach is different. Each coach has his own tactics, his own beliefs about the team's formation. I believe he has been very successful in the past couple of years. He joined us during a transitional period – after ten years with Mr Rehhagel, it wasn't easy, for him or for us. The path he has taken has been nothing but successful.
He led us to first place in our qualifying group [and has been] adding young players and making his mark on the way the team develops on a tactical level. If Greek football in general hasn't changed for the better, the national team definitely has. Strong foundations have been laid after our success in 2004 and now we have a team every Greek player lives and breathes for.
UEFA.com: Finally, can you tell us about the work being done to develop young talents like Stefanos Kapino, who has played at all levels from U17s to the seniors?
Fyssas: I played abroad for four years – two with Benfica and two with Hearts in Scotland. It was a wonderful experience. I managed to grasp a thing or two about the way their academies work, to help the lower-level teams as much as possible. Αs I told our federation's president, Mr [Sofoklis] Pilavios, my first objective was to have people who have contributed to Greek football, people with good moral values who believe in merit and decency. People who can be role models for children concerning all aspects of life.
[On the pitch] the U19s and the U17s have made it to finals twice and once respectively. So, even at those levels, we try to be involved in all major competitions. We now have a database of players of all ages, at all levels.
Of course, such things existed abroad before – they're not new. We made these additions to our national teams so that we can function according to European standards and make our talent stand out because there are Greek players who are very talented, who have great potential, but get lost somewhere along the way.
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