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Greece coach Otto Rehhagel believes the passion shown by his players was the key to their impressive fightback against Spain in UEFA EURO 2004™ Group A at the Estádio do Bessa Século XXI.
Fernando Morientes gave the Spanish a deserved lead in the first half, latching on to Raúl González's cutback before sweeping a shot past Antonios Nikopolidis. But Rehhagel's team never let their heads drop and levelled matters with an exquisite strike on 66 minutes. Vasilios Tsiartas, whose introduction along with Demistoklis Nikolaidis had given Greece fresh impetus, picked out Angelos Charisteas and the striker kept a cool head to finish.
After seeing his team hold out for a 1-1 draw that puts them joint top of Group A alongside Spain with four points, Rehhagel said: "We wanted to be passionate and that's why we picked up some yellow cards at the beginning."
Georgis Karagounis was one of those players to be booked and will now miss the match against Russia, but Rehhagel insisted that his players were right to adopt an aggressive approach. "Spain moved the ball around so well," he said. "We showed a lot of passion and that can be risky against a team as technical as Spain, but we had no choice.
"We were under a lot of pressure in the last 15 or 20 minutes - as in our first game - and that is something we need to work on. But this is a fantastic opportunity for Greek football and we have to take advantage of it."
Charisteas believes the result has confirmed Greece's emergence. "It shows that our win over Portugal was not a fluke," said the goalscorer. "We're a serious team, we play collectively and we have character and experience. We fought until the last minute and played Spain as if we were their equals."
Although the Greek fans were vastly outnumbered by their Spanish counterparts, they contributed to a vibrant atmosphere, and Charisteas added: "We're proud of our supporters and hopefully there will be even more who come out to support us in our last match. Of course the fact that we are still undefeated means that expectations in Greece are rising but we'll just do our best."
Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis revealed that Rehhagel's half-time team-talk lifted the players when he said: "He told us not to be discouraged and he convinced us that we still had a chance of getting something from the game."
Meanwhile, Spain manager Iñaki Sáez was left to rue some profligate finishing from his side. "We made our only error in the second half and it cost us a draw," he explained. "We attacked well but we just weren't able to finish off some promising moves. We had the game within our grasp."
The biggest plus for Spain was the return to form of their captain, Raúl. As well as laying on the goal for Morientes, he proved a constant menace to the Greece defence - despite being shadowed by Konstantinos Katsouranis - and was rewarded with the Carlsberg Man of the Match award. "It was an excellent game," said the Real Madrid CF forward. "I'm still convinced we'll qualify for the quarter-finals, although our last game against Portugal will be difficult."
Spain are likely to require at least a point from their encounter with Iberian neighbours Portugal, but midfield player David Albelda is looking forward to it. "We suffered one loss of concentration and against a tough team like Greece you can't afford to make those sort of mistakes," he said. "Whatever happens now it's down to the Portugal game but then again that's what we came here for."
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