PORTO: Traianos Dellas scored on a close-in header off a corner in extra time yesterday as Greece defeated the Czech Republic 1-0 in a stunning upset to reach the final of Euro 2004.
Rank outsiders and winless in their other appearances in big events – the World Cup in '94 and the 1980 Euro Championship – Greece face host country Portugal on Sunday in Lisbon's Stadium of Light.
It marks the first time in 40 years that a Euro final will be staged between two first-time finalists.
Greece defeated Portugal in the opening game of the tournament 2-1, and ousted defending champions France 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
“We have only two days to rest and we have to do everything to be ready. It is too fast,'' said Stylianos Giannakopoulos. “It is a dream. It is like we are sleeping and we won't wake up.''
“That's the beauty of football. It was a very good, a brilliant day for us and a bleak day for the Czechs.”
Dellas scored off a corner delivered from Vasilios Tsiartas. The “silver goal'' came just seconds before the first 15 minutes of extra time was to end. Had the period ended scoreless, it would have gone to another 15 minutes.
The Czechs were without captain Pavel Nedved from late in the first half after he picked up a right knee injury in the 33rd when he failed to connect on a cross in the box and collided with Costas Katsouranis.
He went off on a stretcher, limped back on in the 36th and hobbled around until he was replaced in the 40th by Vladimir Smicer.
Greek coach Otto Rehhagel hailed the victory as a fairy tale for his adopted country.
“The fairy tale continues, it's unbelievable what they did,” he said. “It's a true miracle. The Czechs were technically better but the passion and the will was on our side.
“We had nothing to lose, we could risk everything. We could play for all or nothing.
“We worked hard for this for three years, step by step. The team have won tremendous confidence. We've made some fortunate decisions and they've worked out.”
Greece withstood early pressure as the Czech Republic took control from the start and tried to break the game open. After just over two minutes against the defensive Greeks, Tomas Rosicky's shot from 20m bounced off the crossbar.
Marek Jankulovski kept up the pressure, striking a hard drive from 15m in the sixth minute, which went directly at goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis. Towering Jan Koller sailed a high arching header in the 19th that Nikopolidis grabbed as it dropped just short of the crossbar.
Greece inched back into the match and in the 29th almost scored a fluke goal on a cross from the left. Panagiotis Fyssas touched the cross but goalkeeper Petr Cech got his fingertips on the ball and nudged it past the post.
Jankulovski shot just wide in the 33rd minute Seconds before the play, Nedved picked up his injury. When he tried to shoot, his leg struck the hip of Katsouranis.
The second half began with a series of fouls and yellow cards as both teams showed more muscle than fine play. Czech Tomas Galasek picked up a yellow card in the 49th for a blatant foul on striker Angelos Charisteas.
In the 55th, Smicer was carded for a reckless tackle. A minute later, Milan Baros was brought down on a rough challenge by Angelos Basinas, who escaped a booking with referee Pierluigi Collina trying to keep control.
With 30 minutes to go, the Greeks seemed content to counter-attack and wait for extra time – or a penalty shootout – as they frustrated the usually smooth-passing Czechs.
In the 64th minute, Basinas angled in a long free kick that just sailed wide with several Greek attackers lurking. Six minutes later, teammate Charisteas picked up another yellow card as the match turned to a tense stalemate.
In the 80th, Koller had the best scoring chance of the half, when he had the goal at his mercy but shot wide from 12m off a pass from Rosicky. Two minutes later, Poborsky headed wide off a long cross as the Czechs kept pressing.
In the 83rd, Baros broke into the area, faked and then shot just wide from 15m.
In the 90th minute, the Czechs were still probing as Jankulovski sent a long cross into the box, just missing Koller. Czech defender Rene Bolf headed away a dangerous cross in the first minute of injury time.
In the first 15 minutes of extra time, the Greeks came out looking for a goal.
Charisteas shot point-blank at Cech but the play was off side. In the 103rd, Dellas got on the end of a long free kick, and flicked it on goal from 8m with Cech making another point-blank save.
Then, on the last play of the half, Dellas headed in a corner. And the Czechs were beaten at last. – AP