Greece – The Pirate Galleon
“The pirate galleon” is not the name of a new Hollywood film but the nickname for the Greek national team. During the opening ceremony of EURO 2004 in Lisbon just before the group game between Greece and Portugal, the hosts displayed a replica of a 16th century galleon. The well-known Greek radio reporter, Georgios Helakis, commented that the Greek players would have to play the part of pirates and not only capture the ship but also win the opening game. The galleon stayed in Portugal but rank outsiders Greece, who had already taken Europe by storm simply by qualifying for the final competition, not only beat Portugal 2-1 in the opening game but again, 1-0, in the final.
Greece as European champions – the most sensational result in modern football. All of the players as well as German coach Otto Rehhagel (who had been appointed in 2001) were awarded honorary citizenship of Athens in the rapturous victory celebrations at the old Olympic Stadium on 5 July 2004. In the ensuing months, the team was unable to consolidate its momentous victory and Greece failed to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. But the country of some 11 million inhabitants, 761,000 men and women footballers, 5,571 clubs and 5,899 teams, managed to recover from its sporting crisis and qualified confidently for EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
The key players in the Greek national team are currently goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis from league champions Olympiakos (35 titles), defender Traianos Delias (AEK Athens), Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Eintracht Frankfurt), midfielders Kostas Katsouranis (Benfica) and Angelos Basinas (Real Mallorca), strikers Angelos Charisteas (Nuremberg; goalscorer in the 2004 EURO final), loannis Amanatidis (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Theofanis Gekas (Bayer Leverkusen).