No fairy-tale ending

LONDON: Greece's extraordinary success at Euro 2004 and Porto's victory in the Champions League final brought romanticism back to international soccer in a landmark year for the sport in 2004. 

Greece's remarkable upset in becoming European champions after starting the tournament as 80-1 outsiders did not meet with universal approval from purists unhappy with their defensive approach. 

It was hard to disagree with coach Otto Rehhagel's counter-attacking tactics, however, as Greece clinched the title by beating hosts Portugal in both the opening match (2-1) and final (1-0). They also got the better of reigning champions France (1-0) in the quarter-finals and the favourites from the Czech Republic (1-0) in the semi-finals. 

Portugal hosted an outstanding festival of soccer and fully expected to crown it with victory over Greece in the final after seeing off England and Holland in the knockout stages. 

Victory at Lisbon's Stadium of Light on July 4 would have completed an incredible double for the nation following Porto's 3-0 victory over Monaco in the Champions League final six weeks earlier.  

But a 57th-minute header from Angelos Haristeas decided the final and secured Greece the greatest upset victory in international soccer history. 

Unfancied teams have beaten far more favoured rivals in one-off games for decades but none rated as lowly as Greece and with no footballing pedigree had ever won an international tournament as prestigious as the European Championship before. 

FIFA celebrated its 100th anniversary this year and UEFA, the European governing body, and their Asian counterparts the AFC, marked their golden jubilees. 

While they enjoyed nostalgic looks back at their celebrated histories, the games' rulers had their hands full coping with modern problems. 

In December last year FIFA president Sepp Blatter first admitted publicly that soccer had a growing problem with doping and the issue has continued to blight the game during the past 12 months. 

Romanian international striker Adrian Mutu, who cost Chelsea £15.8 million (US$30.20 million) in August 2003, was sacked in October after testing positive for cocaine. 

In November, Juventus doctor Riccardo Agricola was found guilty and sentenced to 22 months in prison for administering the banned drug EPO to the Italian club's players during the 1990s. 

Racism was another issue to plague the game again after it appeared to have been consigned to history. After various low-key outbreaks throughout Europe during the year, England's black players were subjected to constant abuse during a friendly in Madrid in November. 

FIFA, UEFA and other authorities have worked hard to stop racism in recent years, but will have to be even more vigilant with even tougher sanctions for offenders in the future. 

On the field, Porto had more than most to celebrate in 2004. 

By changing the format of the Champions League, UEFA turned back the clock to its own early days of the 1950s when dramatic cup-tie soccer first captivated European crowds.  

Introducing knockout competition after the first Champions League group stage opened up Europe's elite tournament and Porto, under the astute leadership of Jose Mourinho, won the European Cup after eliminating Manchester United, Olympique Lyon and Deportivo Coruna and then beating Monaco in the final. 

They also won the Cup and League double in Portugal while, in neighbouring Spain, Valencia won a double of the Primera Liga and the UEFA Cup. 

Arsenal became the first English champions to win the title without losing a match for 115 years, failed in Europe, but later in the year set an English record of 49 league matches unbeaten. 

There was also glory for Brazil, who won the Copa America, Japan, who were crowned Asian champions, and Tunisia, who won the African title. 

Robinho, 20, emerged as the latest great Brazilian hope, even though his career took a wobble when his mother was kidnapped ahead of a possible move to Real Madrid.  

English teenager Wayne Rooney made a staggering £30 million transfer from Everton to Manchester United who believe he will become one of the world's greats. 

At the other end of the career time-line, Frenchman Zinedine Zidane, voted the greatest European player of the last 50 years in UEFA's jubilee public poll in May, was among those who announced his retirement from internationals, with Portugal's Luis Figo and Pavel Nedved of the Czech Republic, following suit. 

Making a more permanent exit was manager Brian Clough, who led Nottingham Forest to European Cup success in 1979 and 1980 and who died in September, aged 69. 

Other deaths included Bill Nicholson, who led Tottenham Hotspur to the first English League and Cup double for 64 years in 1961; Welsh hero John Charles; Leonidas Da Silva, inventor of the bicycle kick and top scorer in the 1938 World Cup finals; Roque Maspoli, Uruguay's goalkeeper when they won the World Cup in 1950; Atletico Madrid supremo Jesus Gil; Ronnie Simpson, Celtic's keeper in their 1967 European Cup-winning team, and Bob Stokoe, who led Sunderland to an epic FA Cup final win over Leeds United in 1973. – Reuters 

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