Surprises galore at Euro ’04

Penalty zeroes and heroes: David Beckham missed (left) but Ricardo (right) scored.
Penalty zeroes and heroes: David Beckham missed (left) but Ricardo (right) scored.
Photos courtesy of Reuters and AFP

The round robin of the 2004 European Championships brought all the thrills, chills, and spills that soccer fans around the world have been waiting for since 2002’s World Cup in South Korea.

There have been brilliant goals, good calls (depending on who you’re asking), surprising losses, and very bad calls (depending on who you’re asking). It’s all in a day’s work for the players that bear their countries’ fervent hopes and dreams on their sweating shoulders.

England, Portugal, France, Greece, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the Czech Republic remained standing after the maelstrom that was the opening portion of the tournament. Powerhouses Italy, Germany, and Spain all went down to defeat, to the shock and dismay of their legions of fans.

Italy failed to make it out of Group C, as a final-game tie between Sweden and Denmark negated the Azzurri’s rousing victory over Bulgaria. Germany and Spain each finished third in their pools, posting lacklustre records of 2 draws and 1 loss, and 1 win, draw, and loss respectively.

This preponderance of underdog victories is part of a larger trend observed of late in the major soccer championships. At the World Cup in 2002, the minor host team of South Korea astounded everyone by making it to the semi-finals, and the United States earned a surprising quarterfinal berth. The playing field has evened out, and smaller countries like Greece have been able to steal major wins.

It has made for some odd and interesting quarterfinal match-ups in the 2004 Euro, where the vanquishing of Goliaths continued. Portugal, the host nation, brought down England in six stress-filled sets of penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie in regulation and extra time.

For many of the distraught English fans, the scene was bitterly reminiscent of the 1998 World Cup. In both instances, late English goals that would have given them the win were questionably disallowed, and they went on to lose in heartbreaking penalties.

The Portuguese goaltender Ricardo was the game’s big hero, as he stopped England’s sixth penalty kick from Darius Vassell and then proceeded to put one of his own past opposing keeper David James.

Even more surprisingly, a day later Greece toppled the mighty defending champions from France. Though the Greeks had never won a game in their two previous international appearances, star-studded France could not find a way to shut them down. Angelos Charisteas’ 65th-minute header proved to be the only goal of the match and the final nail in the coffin of the cocky French.

Look for more upsets in the weeks to come, when Portugal will take on either Sweden or the Netherlands and Greece will face the Czech Republic or Denmark. Since none of the traditional powerhouses are left in the tournament, anything can happen. After all, the Greeks are now the favourites to win it all—and who could possibly have foreseen that?

—With files from and

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