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Football

Greece shock hosts in Euro opener


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Greek players and fans celebrate their opening goal against Portugal

PORTO, Portugal -- Greece got Euro 2004 off to a stunning start when they recorded the greatest win in their history by upsetting host nation Portugal 2-1 in the tournament's opening game.

Portugal had not lost any of their previous nine European Championship group games and were hot favourites to claim another win but they could have no complaints about the defeat as they rarely troubled a well-drilled and committed Greek team.

The Group A outsiders, looking composed on the ball and determined in attack, led through Giorgos Karagounis's seventh-minute shot and doubled the advantage with an Angelos Basinas penalty six minutes into the second half.

They then held out until injury time when Cristiano Ronaldo got a consolation goal with a close range header from a Luis Figo corner.

After the excitement of Porto's Champions League success last month and the anticipation of hosting their first major tournament it was a huge anti-climax for most of the 50,000 crowd.

Greece, who qualified ahead of Spain and drew with Portugal in a November friendly, showed they would not be overawed as they cut through in the first minute, striker Angelos Haristeas miskicking in front of goal after a low cross by Zisis Vryzas.

ENCOURAGING START

It was an encouraging start for a team who failed to score in their three group games during their last appearance in a major tournament, the World Cup in the United States 10 years ago.

It got better five minutes later as midfielder Karagounis pounced on a misplaced pass out of defence by Paulo Ferreira. With the defenders retreating, he took the ball forwrd and drove a low shot past goalkeeper Ricardo from the edge of the area.

Greece had more chances as Haristeas shot wide and overlapping fullback Takis Fyssas arrived in the box to send a volley over the bar.

Portugal eventually settled, with Figo, Rui Costa and Simao Sabrosa beginning to show some nice touches in midfield.

But their chances were limited, Costa heading the best of them wide from the near penalty spot after 25 minutes.

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari introduced Cristiano Ronaldo to add some invention in the second half but the winger's first contribution was to bring down Yourkas Seitaridis as he drove into the penalty area.

Italian referee Pierluigi Collina pointed to the spot and midfielder Angelos Basinas duly sent Ricardo the wrong way with a crisply-struck penalty.

Despite having almost 40 minutes to try to get back into the game, Portugal appeared bereft of ideas and failed to test Greek keeper Antonis Nikopolidis until the 86th minute when he made his first save of the match from Nuno Gomes.

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said his team next faced a "life or death" match after their shock 2-1 defeat.

"In a short competition of only three games, the first game is vital," Scolari told Portuguese TV. "The next game is crucial for us. The next game is life or death."

The tournament hosts face Russia before completing their group matches against neighbours Spain.

"I'm beaten down and sad," Scolari added. "But these results happen. You work for a victory and then you lose. The players are really depressed and myself too. We didn't lose control of the midfield, we lost control of the game," Scolari added.

Portugal midfielders Luis Figo and Deco tried to put on brave faces.

"In the first half we tried to counter their system a bit," said Figo. "We couldn't get the second ball. We were unable to dominate the midfield. In the second half we ended up suffering a goal at the start that upset the game's rhythm. It was very much tougher after that.

"After they had a 2-0 advantage, they positioned themselves well, they defended well. We didn't have any opportunities."

Deco thought the scoreline was unfair. "The goals were not a reflection of the game," he said. "To concede goals in a competition in that way is very difficult to come back from.

"We don't have time to lose heart. Now the job we have to do is going to more psychological than training. "When we started to play well we suffered the penalty."

Meanwhile, Greece coach Otto Rehhagel called the 2-1 victory the biggest win in Greek football history.

"This is the biggest win of any Greek team ever. The strategies and tactics we chose over the past week have been extremely successful. Tomorrow is a Sunday and I hope that the Greeks will hang their flags outside their houses.

"Tonight we will be a little bit happy but tomorrow we have to focus again because we play again in four days."


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