As we prepare our final projects on a variety of topics relating to the upcoming international competitions and as I work on a piece regarding the 2016 Euro Cup I am reminded of the last Euro Cup I ever paid attention too, the 2004 tournament in Portugal. As someone who isn’t an avid soccer fan and basically only follows the World Cup unless something interesting (e.g. Leicester City leading the EPL) is going on in the soccer world I have barely given thought to the Euro cup since 2004, despite living in Europe from 2002-2011. My only remembrances of later Euro Cups were England failing to qualify in 2008 and Spain winning both 2008 and 2012. I will however be paying slightly closer attention this summer to the Euro Cup because Wales will be in their first international tournament since the 1958 World Cup. As I mentioned when something interesting happens in soccer, namely a true underdog story, my interest is piqued. 2004 was such a year and the only time that I can remember that a true underdog won either the World or Euro Cup in my lifetime. I am of course talking about Greece’s victory that year that surprised the soccer world seeing as the odds of them winning were I think 100-1. This is a piece about my best recollections of following the 2004 Euro Cup and how an actual underdog team won a major international title.
Going to a middle school in England it was expected that you would follow or at least hear about the progress of England in the 2004 Euro Cup. This I knew and expected. However my class did something different that ensure my attention during the cup. We held a sweepstakes in which everyone in the class put a piece of candy (we were only 11-12 at the time so we couldn’t use money) into the pot and then at random we each selected a team. I was one of the lucky ones because I picked out the Czech Republic who were one of the better teams in Europe at the time. Those who selected teams like Latvia and Greece however were worried because this is international soccer and at the time the dominant teams of Europe were Spain, France, Portugal, Czech Republic and Italy, if I remember correctly. In 2004 the favorites by far were the hosts Portugal. However the opening game did not go the way Portugal would have liked.
In the first sign that the 2004 tournament might be interesting the hosts lost the opening game to Greece, a country that had only once before been in the Euro Cup. I remember having a gut feeling that Greece would do something special, I guess it was just the part of me that likes the underdog story, but I had a good feeling about Greece. Of course I didn’t want them to win because I had candy riding on the Czech Republic. I also certainly did not want England to win but that was for personal reasons.
I don’t remember actually watching any of the games of the cup, probably because I was in school at the time and had other things to do. I do remember keeping track of the tournament though, especially after Greece upset Portugal to start the cup. The things I clearly remember from the group stage were that the Czech Republic swept their group (group D I believe) so I was still in the sweepstakes. That England should have beaten France and won their group (group B I think) but gave up two goals to Zidane in stoppage time, including a really stupid penalty and that Greece came second in their group (group A) thus continuing on. At the time they were the surprise because of their low odds to win or even advance to the knockout stage (Spain didn’t because of Greece). However there was no expectation that they would last long in the knockout stage.
Of all the tournament the thing I remember most, and what I definitely watched, was the penalty shootout between England and Portugal in the quarterfinals. I remember two distinct things; 1. that David Beckham kicked the worst penalty I had ever seen and 2. that England lost in sudden death and that the winning shot for Portugal was kicked by their goalie. 2 years later in the 2006 World Cup Portugal would again knock England out of the quarterfinals on penalties so England didn’t get their revenge. Personally I liked it but understandably many people at my school didn’t. The Czech Republic made it to the semifinals so I was happy with that. Again the surprise was Greece who beat France 1-0 to advance to the semis and would play the Czech Republic.
As much as I wanted Greece to win it all I had a vested interest in the Czech Republic. By this point the feeling at my school was that the Czech Republic would play Portugal for the title, as with much in the 2004 tournament we were wrong. While Portugal did make it to the final, Czech Republic did not. Greece, continuing its shocking Cinderella story, beat the Czech Republic 1-0 to advance to the final. By this point Greece had the support of at least my school because of their underdog status and the fact that Portugal had defeated England in the quarterfinals. I had no doubt that Greece would win the final because they had already beaten Portugal to start the tournament, they just needed to beat them again to end it.
I wasn’t wrong. Despite not actually watching the final Greece successfully defeated Portugal 1-0 to win their 1st and only Euro Cup. One of the most interesting things about Greece’s victory is that in the knockout stages they seemed to have an unbeatable formula of strong defense and set pieces. All three knockout games were won 1-0 and all three goals came from either a cross into the box or a corner kick. I was pleased with the result because of Greece’s underdog status which made it interesting when they won. Since then I have not really followed the Euro Cup other than to see who’s won it, both times it was Spain, but I will at least keep an eye on the cup this time.