Greece were unlikely winners at UEFA EURO 2004 and they only just made it out of the group phase as Traianos Dellas recalls, looking back on a triumph he "still cannot explain".
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In 2004, Greece pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the history of football by beating UEFA EURO 2004 hosts Portugal in the Lisbon final to stun the whole of Europe. It was the least likely of outcomes and as defender Traianos Dellas recalls to UEFA.com, it came only after they had avoided an early elimination.
"I think most people believed the game against Russia would be the final match," says Traianos Dellas of Greece's 2-1 defeat in their final game of the group phase. "It was very tough."
Fortunately for the centre-back and his team-mates, a Spain side level on points with Greece entering the last round lost 1-0 to Portugal in the other fixture, ensuring progression to the quarter-finals for Otto Rehhagel's men by way of goals scored.
With such fine margins deciding the standings, that Group A match against Russia was far from comfortable – especially once the Greek fans had made their team aware that Spain were trailing to Nuno Gomes's 57th-minute strike. With time ebbing away, one of those pivotal moments in any tournament arrived, as Russia's Dmitri Kirichenko slid in to reach Aleksei Bugayev's teasing cross.
"If Russia had scored at that moment, we would have been out of the EURO. Even though it lasted only a few seconds, it was one of the most difficult moments I have had as a footballer," admits Dellas. Kirichenko could not turn the ball inside the far post.
Although Dellas and company relied on this good fortune to reach the knockout rounds, from there they took their destiny into their own hands with some committed performances, notably from captain Theodoros Zagorakis. As Dellas puts it "with his passion and his strength he inspired the team and gave us the courage to try harder". He adds: "Like us, he wanted to be mentioned in football history – something we were ultimately able to do."
Dellas himself got the goal that gave his team such an opportunity, a 105th-minute semi-final 'Silver Goal' against the Czech Republic that Rehhagel described at the time as "a real miracle". Dellas, however, remains lost for words.
"I do not think that there are any words to describe something like that, even if the Greek language is one of the richest languages. The moment we shared then – me and everyone who watched the game in the stadium or on television – well, I believe everyone has a story to tell about how they felt at that moment."
The rest, as they say, is history. A third successive 1-0 scoreline brought Greece victory over the host nation, Portugal, and their fairy-tale championship was completed as the men in blue and white lifted the Henri Delaunay Cup – a spectacle never seen before, and one which may never be seen again.
"I still can't explain exactly what happened," says Dellas. "What I feel I have realised is that we achieved something very big and important, not only for ourselves, but also for the whole country, which had never before experienced such delight."