Euro 2004: Semi-Finals (Portugal 2 – Holland 1 and Czech Republic 0 – Greece 1)

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
July 2nd, 2004 • 5:28 am

Talk about an unexpected final… A number of people might have bet that Portugal, being the host country, would find the resources to beat better teams and make it all the way to the final (although, of all the countries that have hosted the competition over the years, only a handful have actually made it to the final). I am quite sure, however, that no one would have bet that Greece would be the opponent. And yet here they are… Really, who would have thought?

On top of it, Portugal – Greece was also the opening game of the competition, which the Greeks famously won 2-1 to everyone’s surprise. Full credit goes to Portugal for recovering from that early blow. And full credit goes to Greece for demonstrating that it wasn’t just a fluke. Even after that early victory, who would have thought that the two teams would meet again in the final? This is probably another statistical first (the two teams that played the opening game of the tournament meeting again in the final)!

As much as the outcome of the first semi-final was somewhat predictable (having made it that far, the Portuguese were unlikely to make it easy for Holland, and the Dutch players were unable to find the required spark), the Greek victory against the Czechs was yet another major upset. The Czechs were clearly the favourites to actually win the tournament, having won all their games so far in rather impressive fashion. Once again, however, a combination of bad luck (Nedved’s injury, the shots that hit the woodwork, the bad misses) and remarkable resilience in the star-less Greece enabled the Greeks to snatch the victory in extra time at the ideal moment (right before the end of the first half of extra time, which effectively made the “silver goal” a golden goal).

Portugal, for their part, had a few scary moments against Holland, such as the own goal conceded in the second half, and then the free kick conceded by Coutho near the end of the game, but the Dutch players were unable to capitalize on it, confirming that they didn’t really have the collective ability to win this tournament. Van Nistelrooy might be a good goal snatcher from close range, but he doesn’t have the ability to create goals from outside the penalty area. The rest of the team is, well, nothing to write home about. Portugal, on the other hand, has the outstanding Maniche (author of yet another superb goal) and their own Zidane named Luis Figo, who is still a major influence when he’s in a good day, as he was in the semi-final.

I don’t think anyone can predict what’s going to happen in the final, and that makes it all the more interesting. It somewhat makes up for the lack of prestige associated with such a final. This Euro 2004 has definitely been the triumph of coaches/managers over individual players — but both the coaches involved in the final have demonstrated a lot of skill, and it’s going to be a major chess game. The Portuguese team is obviously more “glamourous” (with players like Figo, Ronaldo, etc.), but glamour comes with its own price (unpredictability, unreliability), and it won’t necessarily be an advantage on the pitch. We shall see!

(On a side note, I am glad to see that van Nistelrooy’s sore loser reaction didn’t go unpunished… Stupid twit. There were refereeing errors in this tournament, but the performance of Anders Frisk wasn’t strikingly bad. If Frisk had been a “home whistler”, as Ruud alleged, would he have given an ideally-placed free-kick to the Dutch a few minutes before full-time? It’s not his fault if no one in the Dutch team was able to do anything with it. Maybe instead of complaining after a defeat, Ruud should start working on diversifying his own game. Those theatrical falls are getting really tiresome.)

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