"We withstood the pressure in normal time and when extra time started we pushed forward," wrote defender Traianos Dellas in his semi-final entry in a UEFA EURO 2004 diary published by a Greek newspaper. "We could see our opponents were very tired. We got a corner. I looked up at the scoreboard: it read 14:36 – a now-or-never situation. And we scored. I scored. I have never felt like this. I started running, celebrating. I don't remember anything else, just [Pierluigi] Collina's final whistle."
That extra-time header against the Czech Republic – the last silver goal winner in UEFA European Championship history – propelled Greece towards the final, where they beat hosts Portugal for a second time at the tournament to secure perhaps the greatest shock result ever in the competition. The 1.96m-tall Dellas did not get the winner in that game – Angelos Charisteas had the honour – but his endurance, his dedication, epitomised the spirit of Otto Rehhagel's side.
The defensive rock
At the time of UEFA EURO 2004, Dellas was playing – albeit irregularly – for Roma. Rehhagel considered him essential to Greece's defensive strategy and was determined to build up his confidence. In one team talk he called him "Colossus of Rhodes", in reference to the famous statue of the god Helios which once guarded the entrance to the harbour at Rhodes. "That's how you should be," said the German coach. "Opponents should know they cannot get past you." In another speech, he labelled Dellas "a lighthouse", because "you are the last player – you look out for your team-mates like a lighthouse looks out for ships at sea".
Rehhagel's words clearly registered. Greece started the tournament looking sturdy and, thanks in part to Dellas, became tougher as they battled on. Tellingly, they did not concede a single goal in their three knockout phase matches, despite coming up against the likes of Zinédine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trézeguet, Jan Koller, Milan Baroš and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Believing the hype
Arriving in Portugal in early June, Dellas admitted he was a bit embarrassed by what he saw on the side of Greece's team bus. He wrote: "There was a motto written on it: 'Ancient Greece had 12 gods; modern Greece has 11.' I was embarrassed at that. I thought it was too much – creating excessive expectations. But day by day, that motto grew on us and we ended up loving it."
Dellas and his colleagues loved being together too; their endless backgammon contests in the team hotel helped them let off steam, and certain pre-match rituals ensured the spell was never broken. Notably, they won their opener against Portugal 2-1 after someone from the back-room staff had unusually ordered French fries for the team before the match. Healthy or not, they ended up eating them before every game en route to glory.
There was less magic in Dellas's club career; having initially sparkled for local club Aris Thessaloniki, he played abroad in England, Italy and Cyprus, returning to Greece between these stopovers to play for AEK Athens – whom he later coached. He earned 53 caps for Greece despite a series of injuries blighting the back end of his playing days, prompting his retirement in 2012. Whatever the disappointments, however, he always had 2004.
"I will always remember these 40 days with the Greece team in summer 2004 as the sweetest story of my career," he wrote. "And I will tell it to my children as a bedtime story."
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