Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Portugal would like to make up for first loss against Greece


For Greece, it could be a fairy tale ending to a remarkable journey. For Portugal, it should be the ultimate payback.

The Euro 2004 final nobody predicted takes place at the Stadium of Light today with host Portugal aiming to make up for its opening game loss to Greece and win its first major title.

The Greeks, who had never won a game at either the Euros or World Cup, beat the host 2-1 in Porto three weeks ago for the biggest opening game upset in the 44-year history of the European Championship. Now they are in the final, it doesn't look so embarrassing.

Otto Rehhagel's team, which started out a 100-1 shot for the title, went on to draw with Spain, knock defending champion France out in the quarterfinals, and then beat the championship's hottest team, the Czech Republic, in the semis.

It's a little like Denmark's triumph in 1992. Having failed to qualify, the Danes only entered the championship because Yugoslavia was thrown out, and they went on to beat favored Germany in the final.

The Greek players say Euro 2004 all seems like a dream. It could be a recurring nightmare for the Portuguese on Sunday.

The same host team that lost in Porto will try to wipe away the memories of that defeat and impose its quality play on a Greek side that relies heavily on strong defense and teamwork.

It didn't work in Porto but it must in Lisbon.

"We're working on correcting what went wrong last time," said FC Porto midfielder Nuno Maniche, whose stunning 22-meter strike in the 2-1 semifinal victory over the Netherlands put the team into its first final.

"We'll need to be patient and disciplined. They close down well, they're very organized. Patience is the key."

The Greeks want an action replay of their opening game performance but warn they have become a stronger team as the tournament has progressed.

"The final match is a completely different match," said Greek defender Traianos Dellas, the AS Roma player whose "silver goal" seconds from the end of the semifinal against the Czech Republic earned his team a first ever place in a final.

"The first match is over, it doesn't mean a thing. A lot of things are changed in the middle and we will have to face a completely different Portugal, stronger.

"But they will also find that Greece, with a great soul, and even better than in the opening match."

The final is the first in a major championship to have two overseas coaches facing other. Portugal's coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, is Brazilian and Rehhagel is German.

Both teams are in their first final, and a Portuguese triumph will complete a remarkable double for Scolari.

He guided Brazil to its fifth World Cup two years ago and hopes to become the first coach to win both the world and European titles with two different teams.

But his talented team has to find a way to unravel a Greek defensive system that has proved unshakable at this championship.

Dellas and Georgios "Giourkas" Seitaridis have been the stars of a well-organized back four, and the only man missing from the side will be Inter Milan's Georgios Karagounis, who has set some kind of a record by getting booked in every game he has played, and serves his second suspension of the championship.

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