"It was my last match with the national team," said Giorgos Karagounis after Sunday's shoot-out defeat by Costa Rica in Recife brought an end to Greece's FIFA World Cup campaign – and the 37-year-old's international career.
Under Fernando Santos – who is also stepping down from national team duty – Greece had made it to the knockout phase for the first time, with Karagounis, as ever, gritty and creative in midfield. "We all wanted to win, make it to the quarter-finals and prolong our stay in Brazil for a week, but it wasn't meant to be," he shrugged. "We are sad, but proud of our campaign in this World Cup, proud of our effort. We gave it all we had."
That short phrase sums up Karagounis's 15-year international career superbly. Having made his debut in a friendly game against El Salvador in August 1999, Karagounis's final total of senior national appearances is a record 139. Add to that the 111 games he played in a blue-and-white shirt since first featuring in the nation's youth team at the age of 15, and you end up with an unbelievable final total of 250.
His tally of ten goals is perhaps less impressive, but the set-piece and long-range strike specialist was responsible for some landmark efforts. He scored Greece's first goal as they beat Portugal 2-1 in the opening game of UEFA EURO 2004, a tournament they went on to win under Otto Rehhagel. Eight years later, his strike in a win-or-bust tie against Russia took Greece to the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2012.
A silver medallist as captain of the Greece side that reached the final of the 1998 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, and a bronze medallist at the U18 event in 1995, Karagounis signs off from international football having played in three UEFA European Championships and two FIFA World Cups, as well as the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup. Greece will not be the same without him, though he took comfort that he was bowing out with the team looking in fine shape.
"Our national team came of age at this tournament," the former Panathinaikos FC, FC Internazionale Milano, SL Benfica and Fulham FC man said. "The younger guys earned valuable experience this past month and that will become evident in upcoming tournaments – I am confident they can keep improving. I hope there will be many more campaigns like this one."
Defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos knows the younger members of the team owe a huge debt to Karagounis. "He has given everything for the team," the 26-year-old said. "He has left us a legacy for the future. He shouldn't worry."
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