LISBON: Two men, two teams, one final – and four countries still involved.
Today’s European Championship final will be unlike any other regardless of whether Portugal see off giant-killers Greece in that the winning coach will become the first to lead someone else’s country to glory at a major tournament.
Either Portugal’s Luiz Felipe Scolari or Greece’s Otto Rehhagel will enter the history books after putting their own spin on John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address.
“And so, my fellow footballers. Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for someone else’s country,” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as JFK’s rousing call to good citizenship.
But both the Portuguese and the Greeks will overlook the mere detail of having a non-national on the touchline if they can capture their first silverware.
In the case of Scolari, his entry in football’s “who’s who of coaches” will expand even further should he take the hosts to the winners’ podium at the Stadium of Light.
Not only would he have become the first coach to land either Europe’s Henri Delauney Trophy or the World Cup for another country but the 55-year-old would furthermore uniquely have won both trophies with different nations.
Only former West Germany boss Helmut Schon managed to oversee wins in both competitions, winning the European Championship in 1972 and then the World Cup two years later, the task facilitated by a generation of players who included Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier.
“Now it’s time for the moment of truth,” trumpeted Portuguese sports daily A Bola after the Greeks booked their passage by ousting the Czech Republic, generally regarded as the most technically gifted side at the event.
Scolari and Rehhagel are both handsomely paid overseas hired guns.
But on a stage as big as this it’s not about the money.
Both Scolari and Rehhagel, 65, were controversial appointments but are now basking in adulation.
Scolari says winning the title would be even more satisfying than delivering the World Cup for Brazil.
“This is different, as with Brazil I was world champion. But they had already won it four times. For my CV, I think this is more important as Portugal had never reached a final,” Scolari said after his team ousted Holland in the semi-finals.
If Scolari’s credentials are no longer in any doubt among the Portuguese – or the Brazilians – Rehhagel has performed even greater miracles for Greece.
His side came here as rank outsiders but promptly beat Portugal in the opening group match for their first-ever win bonus in the competition.
Since then they have gone from strength to strength, seeing off holders France in the quarter-finals before Taianos Dellas nodded them into the final at the expense of the Czechs.
“Sometimes not always the best side wins,” Rehhagel noted sardonically after sending the silky-skilled Czechs home.
He insists he is just an advisor to his men, to whose traditional off the cuff skills he has welded discipline and unyielding team spirit.
As a Greek philosopher once said: “Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity.”
An apposite message for football coaches everywhere.
“I make certain decisions and these decisions are followed by my players – I only advise them,” says Rehhagel, whose authoritarian streak saw him ejected after less than a season at Bayern Munich but who is now being talked up as a man who could fill the vacant post of Germany coach.
This is where the Portuguese and Greek approach meets, Scolari having instilled similar discipline in a nation where fantasy too often in the past left this year’s hosts bridesmaids and never the bride.
If Scolari’s men have learned the lesson their rivals meted out to them three weeks ago in Porto, the time will have come to place the ring on Portugal’s finger.
After the semi-final, the Brazilian, clutching his wedding ring, said that he was wedded to the cause for two years more regardless of today’s result.
On Friday, the 24 Horas daily promptly portrayed a cartoon version of the Brazilian, replete with wedding dress and bouquet of flowers, pledging his troth to federation president Gilberto Madail.
A trophy would make the finest of presents for the happy “couple”. – AFP