ATHENS: Greeks hailed their triumphant soccer team on Friday as Lions and gifts from The Gods for delivering to the nation what many described as one of their greatest sporting moments since the ancient Olympics.
From the capital Athens to Greece's hundreds of islands, Greeks sought each other out in town squares and on beaches to cheer, dance, set off fireworks and marvel that two months before the Athens Olympics they are already in the spotlight of world sport.
They were fantastic, brilliant. They were lions, said shop owner Dimitris Papadopoulos in the Athens main nightlife district of Plaka.
Now we are going to win the whole thing. We're going to take it. Everybody thought that France would have beaten us by four or more goals. But now that we are in the semi-finals, we are going all the way.
Said fellow shop owner Nikos Bakosis: It is unbelievable. I really cannot believe it. It's the greatest moment in our sports history that we beat all those great teams. But I don't know how it has happened. Maybe it's gifts from the Gods.
I expected this victory, said Manolis Manoglou, a 64-year old on his way to Athens' central Omonoia Square to celebrate.
We played well, we had courage and momentum. I knew we would win, he said.
And optimism was sky high.
We feel proud today, there's no question we'll make it to the finals, one fan said on Antenna television.
Greece's qualification for the last four is the greatest success in the history of the national football team.
Never before have Greeks had the opportunity to assemble in their thousands before giant screens on beaches, cafes, even cinemas, to follow their national football team's exploits as they did late on Friday.
Within minutes of Greece winning the match against hot favourites and champions France, town squares across the country of 10 million were swollen with thousands of people.
Streets were jammed with cars and motor bikes blowing their horns and people waving every size of Greek flag and setting off ship flares.
Even the capital's famed stray dogs, who are just part of the scenery for most city residents, joined in the din barking endlessly at the uproar around them.
On the island of Evia off Athens, where, as in many places elsewhere, hundreds of people watched a giant TV screen set up on the beach, housewife Katya Velissariou screamed with tears streaming down her cheeks: Greece is going to burn tonight.
Greece's most famed sports commentator Yannis Diakogiannis spoke for all Greeks when he said that with the Olympic Games still to come in Athens in August, the country, which has known little sporting success in recent years, was in the midst of a magical era.
This is the best advertisement there could possibly be for the Olympic Games. This is the summer of Greece, he said.
Greek leaders issued statements within minutes of the match to praise the team.
Our footballers made us proud again today, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a statement.
All Greece and all Greeks are today celebrating a just victory, the historic qualification of our national team, making them one of the four best teams in Europe.
Praise was showered on the team's German coach Otto Rehhagel.
It was Rehhagel's discipline, perspicacity and ability that led us to this great success, said Miltos Papapostolou, a former coach of the Greek national team.
When he arrived, some believed he came here just to make some money. He has proved he was a different kind of person, Papapostolou added. Agencies