Despite Underdog Status, Greeks The Better Team

Despite all of the press to the contrary, this past Thursday’s Euro 2004 semi-final match was a clear indication that, once again, someone forgot to tell the upstart Greeks–Ranked 35th in the world of soccer–that they weren’t supposed to be where they were.

Never gaining a victory in a European tournament, much less entering a playoff round, Greece has taken to entering a bravado match with itself by outdoing its own accomplishments every time a game is played. Ignoring the negativity and the unfriendly match predictions saturating the world around Euro 2004, they seem content to destroy expectations with each goal they score. It looks as though they just aren’t getting the message that this Cinderella journey shouldn’t be happening.

The notice must have gotten lost in transit during the qualifying round as, undaunted by 2-0 opening losses to the Ukraine and favoured Spain, the Greeks had the gall to win their next six matches, resulting in automatic tournament qualification. The message must not have been clear enough when the Greek side had the audacity to hand the significantly higher ranked host country team a 2-1 defeat, leaving an entire nation of hopeful Portugal fans wondering what had happened to their hopes and dreams. Obviously, someone abandoned their duty to inform Greece that their soccer team shouldn’t be causing the commotion they’re responsible for, when last week they incited a commotion as far as the streets of Toronto by putting one past the #2 ranked French in the quarterfinals.

This unfortunate chain of broken communication came to a head Thursday, as once again, the message was lost; against an explosively offensive Czech Republic, ranked 11th internationally, the Greeks seemed to have missed the headlines highlighting their impending failure as spry defenseman Dellas buried an extra-time corner effort to propel the underdogs into the finals.

With each passing game, one can’t help but wonder how the Greek team manages to accomplish what it does. There are no marquis players headlining their efforts, no Beckham’s or Zidane’s or Figo’s capturing headlines or highlight reels. With names such as Kapsis and Karagounis being presented as leaders on the field, their starting lineup tends to draw more confused shrugs than elated recognition. And yet, these virtual unknowns ignore their obscurity with an almost reckless abandon, tearing up the pitch and out-working their opponents on every drive. There is no pressure on them to perform, no national expectations to weigh them down-their victories are the product of their own desires.

Apparently, the man at the helm of the team hasn’t been informed that his boys shouldn’t be winning games, either. The Greek coaching change may play some part in their recent success, with German coach Otto Rehhagel implementing an improved sweeping strategy and adopting a flexible 5-4-1 defense-heavy formation which has the ability to quickly transform into a potent 3-4-3 attack. However, a sound strategy can only take a team so far, and more so than in any other sport, soccer matches tend to be decided by the players and their efforts as opposed to their placement on the field.

In the exciting celebration of sport that is Euro 2004, the Greeks have realized unprecedented success against all odds, and against all understanding. They are a culmination of every reason why we love underdogs.there is something so magical about a group coming from nothing and ignoring expectations to reach new levels of success. An entire world of publicity and media has been hammering the same message into the minds of fans and players alike: You shouldn’t be here, Greece. You were never supposed to be here.

I’m sure that I speak for soccer fans everywhere when I say that, come Sunday’s final against Portugal, I hope Greece enters the stadium without ever having received that message.