Less than a year after Otto Rehhagel led Greece - 150-1 rank outsiders and rank to watch - to Euro 2004 riches, this onlooker recalls chatting to their coach, a figure venerated for an unprecedented achievement in the international game.
At the time Rehhagel had washed up in Sydney to a level of adulation from the local Hellenic community that could not have been topped if Hermes himself had dropped in wearing a pair of winged sandals.
It felt like every Greek in Australia had turned up to marvel at the German tactician dubbed 'King Otto' for leading their side to the mythological land of a first football trophy. An unheralded 1-0 win over hosts Portugal in Lisbon belied popular wisdom as Greece became one of only nine countries to carry off the Henri Delaunay Cup.
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Greece Rehhagel

Image credit: Imago

Rehhagal‘s record during those finals remains a part of football folklore. Aged 65, the oldest manager to coach a side to the European Championship, and sporting a glorious barnet blacker than black boot polish - which was as much of a modern miracle as his team - Rehhagel was well aware of image. Not that his tactics cared much for it.
Rehhagel remains feted in Greece for his ability to mould an array of unexceptional players with little style into one sharp enough to conquer Europe. Like Portugal over the past month, an acute sense of discipline, unity, attention to detail and ability to lead a charmed life defined Greece’s rise to their finest sporting hour.

Greece celebrate winning Euro 2004 in Portugal

Image credit: Reuters

It was an exceptional achievement in every sense despite a much-maligned Greece, overseen by Traianos Dellas in central defence, being about as popular in Europe as the Black Death, their style of play an ordeal on the senses.
Portugal were left feeling like they had been mugged in the final as the visiting side scored with their solitary attempt on target after being restricted to only 42 percent of possession. A header from Angelos Charisteas early in the second half was enough to pop open the ouzo.
I was fortunate to win," a smiling Rehhagel told me. "If you win you are a king, but if you don't win you are out, so it's tough.
The same can be said of the gnarled Portugal coach Fernando Santos, 61, who has already intimated that he is content to win ugly and says “pretty football” rarely works in tournaments. If he somehow ekes out a win against France in the final, he will be king of his people despite sexy football long being rendered impotent from the country that gave us Eusebio.
As in 2004, when every blue-chip country seemed mediocre at best, Germany, Spain and Italy departed before their time, style has quickly gone out of fashion at these finals, but Portugal have arrived on the Paris catwalk sporting some hand-me-downs. Euro 2016 feels like a little bit of history repeating itself.
They won, you can't take the credit from them, but if you ask me if it was a football that I like to see, of course not," said Luis Figo of the Greek success. "There'll be a lot of people who would say the same. It's efficient, I don't know if they're the best team, but they are the most effective and they won.
It would be interesting to note what the former Real Madrid attacker Figo, a harbinger of flowing football, thinks of this stodgy Portuguese approach playing without a recognised forward and showing about as much ambition as a hermit.
Cristiano Ronaldo, then 18 and distraught after the final, is the last remaining nod to his country's fading golden generation that contained Luis Figo, Nuno Gomes and Rui Costa, who are suddenly playing the Greece way. They have stormed Paris by winning only one game in normal time out of six.

Portugal's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (R) consoles a tearful Cristiano Ronaldo (L) after their Euro 2004 final loss to Greece at the Luz stadium in Lisbon July 4, 2004.

Image credit: Eurosport

Three draws in the group stage against Iceland, Austria and Hungary could only secure third place in Group E, but was followed by a 1-0 win over Croatia in extra-time, it took them 117 minutes to muster an effort on goal, a win over Poland on penalties after a 1-1 draw and the 2-0 success against Wales that was as watchable as an episode of Jeremy Kyle.
The answer to Portugal’s search for a centre forward has been to avoid playing with one. It is a ploy that has carried them this far. They are unlikely to stop their regress as long as they progress.
Portugal will spend their time shelling set-pieces towards the head of Ronaldo, who is wandering from deeper positions while Nani swings out wide. Ronaldo has become a target man; using such a player as if he were Andy Carroll might not be elegant, but it suits the strategy Santos has so far successfully executed.

Portugal's coach Fernando Santos speaks with his players.

Image credit: Reuters

It is interesting to note that Santos was Greece coach before returning to Portugal two years ago. He was manager of AEK Athens when Greece were winning Euro 2004.
There is an obvious revision in Greek history enveloping Santos, in understanding how such a country reached the top of Olympus. 1-0 wins over France, Czech Republic and Portugal were enough to make off with the goods.
Santos should be lauded as a coach for such a pragmatic approach to his assignment of improving Portugal's best of finishing second behind Greece. It looked a risk when Bruno Alves came in from the cold to replace Pepe in central defence against Wales. Alves looked like he had just stepped off the Sagres, but was not flustered all evening.
Like Greece, they will hope to get lucky before attempting to squeeze the life out of a French side who are loaded with flair and finesse by comparison.
In that regard, France in 2016 are very much like Portugal of 2004, making the entire final resemble a topsy-turvy episode of The Way We Were.
Didier Deschamps' side are strong favourites to win the final, but the same was said of Portugal on their own patch 12 years ago.

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The then Portugal coach 'Big Phil' Scolari had this to say about Greece in 2004: "The Greeks had more quality in what they are good at. They were superior in the high balls, in the set-pieces and in the individual position.”
He could just as easily be opining on Portugal in 2016. No longer should Portugal lament the Greeks after these finals.
This has tended to be a forgettable tournament. With fighting between Russia and England fans setting the scene in one depressing weekend in Marseille a month ago, we appear to have taken a step back in time off and on the pitch.
It has been a finals full of confusion ranging from who would play who in the knock-out stage, to the general standard of play and a negativity strangling the life out of a willingness to entertain. Apart from France, the leading nations have struggled to meet expectation as if they have arrived at the finals trying to find themselves. Germany have been rightly unimpressed by the organisation and fare on offer.
Iceland and Wales enjoyed their sojourns, but they were solid rather than spectacular, benefiting greatly from dwindling standards among other leading nations when you recall the collapse of England and Belgium.
Football wins if France wins simply because they have players who are enjoyable to watch, particularly when you think of the sparkle and thrust of Antoine Griezmann - up to six goals for the tournament - Dmitri Payet and Paul Pogba. They are easy on the eye in comparison to an opponent who are better watched wearing a blindfold.
If Portugal somehow smuggle the trophy out of Paris, it will be one of the great sporting heists of our time - and all masterminded by Santos, a supreme strategist in the mould of Rehhagel.
It would also be a significant defeat for the purpose of these get-togethers. To entertain in sport is all about the art of creation; spoiling is easier. In that respect, Portugal would be desperately, depressingly poor champions of Europe.
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