Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis said he felt "blessed" after last night's 4-0 win in Bosnia-Herzegovina marked the end of his 119-cap international career.
Named the Most Valuable Player at UEFA EURO 2004™ after skippering Greece to glory, the 34-year-old called time on his international career 12 years after making his debut in a 5-1 win against the Faroe Islands. "I wanted to leave the national team after two consecutive victories against Norway and Bosnia-Herzegovina and we managed it," he said. "The best leaving present the guys can give me is to qualify for the [UEFA EURO 2008™] finals. It's not easy to leave. I have so many memories from my time with the national team."
A hardworking, unfussy defensive midfielder, Zagorakis has risen from a lowly start at Kavala FC to become a Greek great, impressing in his club career at PAOK FC, Leicester City FC, Bologna FC and AEK Athens FC before returning for a final spell at "the love of his life" PAOK. His greatest achievements were with Greece. He became the first Greek player to win more than 100 caps, against Kazakhstan in November 2004, and set a European record for the most consecutive competitive national-team appearances with 57.
His work-rate, tactical sense and strong personality won him the admiration of a succession of Greece coaches and team-mates and it was no surprise that there were plenty of players eager to sing his praises last night. Stelios Giannakopoulos said: "This victory is dedicated to a great Greek man, Theodoris Zagorakis - it's his. He led us to the miracle of Portugal two years ago." Christos Patsatzoglou added: "He has done so much for Greek football. We thank him from the bottom of our hearts."
Zagorakis himself, meanwhile, did his best to keep his emotions under control. "You can't play forever," he said. "You have to know when it's time to quit. I gave everything I had to this team and now I will concentrate on PAOK. My mind is made up and I won't change it. There are many younger guys coming to replace me. I can see that the team is constantly improving and that makes me very happy. I thank God that I kept healthy throughout my career and I was able to achieve great things with the Greek team. I feel blessed."
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