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Looking back on Greece's shock EURO 2004 win

Former international centre-back Traianos Dellas recalls Greece’s fairy-tale victory at EURO 2004 that took even the winners by surprise.

Traianos Dellas lifts the  EURO 2004 trophy after Greece's 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final
Traianos Dellas lifts the EURO 2004 trophy after Greece's 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final ©AFP

Was it really 20 years ago? Greece's remarkable triumph at EURO 2004 still stands out as perhaps the greatest upset in a major international tournament, a jaw-dropping achievement which has lost none of its power to shock. Traianos Dellas was at the heart of the Greece side which defied expectations in Portugal. A rock at the back in Otto Rehhagel's doughty line-up, he too can hardly believe how much time has passed since he and his team-mates ruled the continent.

"Personally, I feel like it happened only yesterday," explains the 48-year old. "Sometimes, I think that every Greek person who lived through and experienced it remembers it like it happened just yesterday."

"I think that every Greek person who lived through and experienced it remembers it like it happened just yesterday."

Traianos Dellas

Perhaps that's only natural when you can barely leave the house without being stopped by supporters, but the trophy winners themselves have also been doing their bit to keep the magic of that summer alive.

"All the players from the team are still in touch," says Dellas. "We're still active and we've established an NGO called Champions for Life, which aims to help people and carry out charity work throughout the community. We still often get together and we've remained very active over the years. As for the 20th anniversary, we're preparing something big. Everyone in Greece will be able to come together and celebrate that amazing win all over again."

UEFA HatTrick: funding the growth of European football since 2004

Since EURO 2004, UEFA's HatTrick programme has distributed an average of 66% of each men's EURO's net revenue to Europe's 55 member associations, to help to fund development projects across the football pyramid.

As the EURO has grown, so has HatTrick. After 20 years and five men's EUROs, the largest solidarity fund in sport has distributed a cumulative €2.6 billion and delivered more than 800 projects. Over the next four years, a further €935 million of EURO 2024 revenue will go back into the game.

Driven by team spirit

Nobody will be surprised that their camaraderie endures. Indeed, the spirit of Greece's band of brothers was key to their astonishing success, the national team having never previously won even a single game at a major tournament. Did they think they had a trophy shot before the action began? "No, not at all," insists Dellas. So how did Greece win EURO 2004? Crucially, what they did have was an incredible bond, and by pulling together they went on to beat hosts Portugal in both their opening game and the final – not to mention their knockout wins against holders France and a much-fancied Czech Republic side.

Greece stunned Portugal in the EURO 2004 final
Greece stunned Portugal in the EURO 2004 final©Getty Images

"We didn't have the same star players that other teams in that EURO had," adds Dellas. "But we all got along very well as characters, and we were also a very tight-knit group. That helped us to defeat those star-quality teams who seemed much better than us. We all had strong personalities and good characters. Our main advantage, though, was that we were all able to put the team ahead of ourselves."

Dellas the defensive colossus

Nowhere was that truer than in defence, as Dellas recently saw for himself. The former centre-back was part of a rearguard that conceded just four times in six games, keeping clean sheets in all three knockout matches. His leadership in front of goal earned him a place in UEFA's Team of the Tournament, and yet he is keen to underline the rigour and tenacity that characterised the entire side.

"I rewatched all those games recently," he says. "I'd never watched them before. Being a coach now, I noticed things that surprised me, like how excellent the effort of the forward and midfield players was. They did a great job in helping to relieve the pressure on the players in defence, and I could see that every player was working hard on the pitch. Credit goes to all the players in that squad, not just myself or my fellow defenders."

Greece's EURO 2004 triumph: Every goal

Making history

Dellas helped out at the other end too, making history with his headed winner against the Czech Republic in the semi-finals. Scored late at the end of the first period of extra time, it was the only silver goal in an international game and his only goal for his country. "To tell you the truth," he says, "I don't remember a lot from that moment because of the intensity and fatigue from playing the match. It's a true blessing that, after 20 years, I'm still being thanked by people in the street. I tell them they probably remember more from watching that game than I do."

Greece players salute the fans at EURO 2004
Greece players salute the fans at EURO 2004Action Images

What Dellas does recall, however, is reaching the summit of Europe three days later, when Angelos Charisteas broke Portuguese hearts in a 1-0 victory – the crowning glory of Greece's fairy0tale run. "It was like a weight was lifted off us," says Dellas. "In reality, we shouldn't have felt so much pressure because we were total underdogs. Had we not won the final, we still would have considered ourselves winners, but that was just our character. We were thirsty for success so, when it was over, we all breathed a sigh of relief."

Since then, the man who enjoyed three separate playing spells with AEK Athens in a career that also featured stints in Italy and England, has continued to prove his combative credentials. As a coach, he steered AEK from the third division back to the Greek elite in successive seasons between 2013 and 2015, but what would truly give him joy is to witness another Greece team take the continent by storm.

"I wish for it to happen again, or for it to be even bigger and better," he explains. "We want the young players to surpass us. That's our mentality, and it's not impossible for another team to achieve that. I really hope there'll be another generation of players like us." After all, does it not seem like yesterday when he and his tenacious compatriots pulled off the ultimate upset?

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