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The European football world was turned on its head in stunning fashion at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto. Unheralded Greece, seen by many as makeweights at UEFA EURO 2004™, find themselves in Sunday's final against hosts Portugal after a dramatic silver-goal win that destroyed the hopes of the much-fancied Czech Republic.
In an unbelievable finale, substitute Vassilios Tsiartis swung over a corner in injury time at the end of the first period of extra time and big defender Traianos Dellas roared in at the near post to steer in a header which sent Greece's raucous fans, and an entire country, into total ecstasy.
The unsung Greeks continue to pick up some of the choice football scalps in an amazing journey – first Portugal in the opening match, then holders France in the quarter-finals, and now the Czechs, seen by some as favourites for the title.
The victory was never stolen. Greece, astutely led by veteran German coach Otto Rehhagel, have an efficient, massively industrious team of character and grit that works hard for each other, refuses to buckle under pressure, and is able to grind out results against the odds.
They kept their nerve, particularly in a torrid opening ten minutes when their crossbar was rattled by Tomáš Rosický, believed in each other's capabilities, and the canny Rehhagel and his squad can now look forward to another momentous occasion against Portugal having been good enough to stun the tournament hosts with a 2-1 win in Group A. The tournament's opening match will also be a fascinating final.
As for the Czechs, they disappointed on the night. Thwarted by a sterling Greek rearguard with Dellas' towering display at its heart, they were never able to fully turn on the measured, powerful football that had taken them this far. For all their potential and technical prowess, Karel Brückner's team failed to deliver when the pressure was at its highest. They also rued several missed chances, and the loss of talismanic playmaker Pavel Nedved with a first-half leg injury proved too much of a burden for them to overcome.
Rehhagel has already earned himself the freedom of Greece and will be revered there forever if he takes his team to the European crown. "The fairy tale continues," he said. "It's unbelievable what they did. It's a true miracle. The Czechs were technically better, but the passion and the will was on our side. We had nothing to lose, we could risk everything. We could play for all or nothing."
"I realised when we were given the corner that exactly 14 minutes 36 seconds of extra time had been played," said goal hero Dellas. "I said to myself that now we must do it. Someone heard me, and after that I scored. I thank from the bottom of my heart the Greek fans who were here and those back home; we have done something historic."
Greek midfield player Stylianos Giannakopoulos was also in seventh heaven after the final whistle, saying: "It was a terrific way to win, it is the beauty of football. It is a beautiful day for us and a black day for the Czechs.
'Like a dream'
"We have only two days to rest and we have to do everything to be ready because it is too fast," he continued. "It is a dream, it's like we are sleeping and we don't want to wake up. We were a little bit lucky, but we scored and we have got to the final."
Czech coach Karel Brückner was philosophical in defeat. "We must accept defeat, that's life," he reflected. "We cannot be ashamed, on the contrary we can be proud, even in this game with its bad end."
And so to the Estádio da Luz on Sunday. "Now we'll have the fairytale final," Rehhagel said. "We beat the Portuguese in the first match, and they managed to stay in the tournament, and now it's the dream final against us, a chance to get revenge for the first match. We're the underdogs. But in football everything is possible. We don't have anything to lose."
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