July 4th marks the 13-year anniversary of one of the greatest shocks in the history of football.
Unfancied Greece, to the surprise of pretty much everybody, became champions of Europe, beating hosts Portugal 1-0 in the final.
A team expected to bow out in the group stages defeated three top-seeded teams en route to lifting the cup; the Greek fans quite rightly describe it as a magical summer.
And at the head of it all, as the arch-strategist plotting this most unlikely course to success, was coach Otto Rehhagel, a German guaranteed his place among the Gods of Greek sport forever.
After emerging from their group by following up their win over Portugal with a 1-1 draw against Spain and a 2-1 defeat by Russia, the surprises really started when defending champions France — complete with Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry — were beaten in the last eight by Angelos Charisteas’ powerful second-half header.
It was a performance that was a template for Greek glory. Frustrate, lead, defend with discipline and win.
The highly fancied Czech Republic suffered a similar fate in the semi-final when they lost to Traianos Dellas’ “silver goal” in extra time in Porto.
Even then, the legions following the host nation and 63,000 inside Lisbon’s Stadium of Light believed Sunday, July 4 was to be their own day of destiny. Not a bit of it.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and company went the same way as Greece’s previous opponents as Charisteas headed the winner after 57 minutes. And even the most frantic finale in front of passionate home support could not break the resistance in-built by Rehhagel.
Celebrations took place all over Greece and the world. The Greek diaspora came together and celebrated through the night in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.