Euro turns soccer upside down
By KEN FIDLIN, TORONTO SUN
There is no script for Euro 2004. They are winging it and turning the football world on its ear in the process. Greece proved its early win over Portugal was no fluke yesterday by taking on the team generally regarded as the best in the world, France, and turning it aside, in a thrilling 1-0 victory.
As a result, the Greeks are through to the semi-finals on Thursday. If they can duplicate yesterday's feat, Canada Day could become a Greek national holiday, as well.
The Greeks were supposed to be one of the tame opponents for the big shots at this tournament, but they have proved their mettle, especially yesterday.
They held their own early, then made good on a brilliant run by Theo Zagorakis down the right flank. After he turned Bixente Lizarazu inside out, his cross deep in the French zone found the noggin of Angelos Haristeas and it was nodded past Fabien Barthez for the game's only goal.
As time drained away, the French created many more chances than they had early but, in the end, could not deliver on their promise.
"We really showed what we can do," Haristeas said. "We played the best team in the world and we beat them.
"We've shown that Greece deserves to be exactly where it is. This had nothing to do with luck. Now we have to calm down and see what the stage brings. We've made it here. Now everything is possible."
The past two weeks have produced some of the most dramatic action in the history of the European Championship. There has been an array of astounding results, none any more stunning than those produced by Greece.
While accusatory fingers are being pointed in many of the soccer capitals of Europe, the Greeks have become the poster children for all that is right at Euro 2004
Pockets of collateral damage have erupted all over the European soccer map. For the first time in 44 years, a major European event has reached the playoff stage without either Italy or Germany involved and the anguish in those two countries is palpable.
The front-page headline in the Thursday edition of Bild, Germany's leading tabloid newspaper, shouted "Out! Rudi, we are the fools of Europe."
That was aimed at coach Rudi Voeller, whose employment did not survive the day. The Germans are apoplectic at the prospect of holding the 2006 World Cup without a competitive team to carry the flag.
The final humiliation came on Wednesday in the final preliminary-round game when, needing nothing less than a victory, the Germans played the Czech Republic, which had already qualified. Czech coach Vladimir Smicer sat out nine of his regulars and the second-string dispatched Germany 2-1.
That was the tap on the shoulder for Voeller.
"What really hurts me," he said upon his resignation, "is that we weren't even playing against the Czechs' best team."
The Italians left Portugal after the preliminaries shrieking of a conspiracy against them, and while the Sweden-Denmark taffy-pull that sent Italy crashing out had a foul odour, the Italians needed only to look in the mirror.
The Azzurri are blessed with some of the most accomplished football talent on the planet but their tactical refusal to let them play unfettered is one of the most curious strategic positions in sport. They have, forever, refused to play to win, preferring to play not to lose. Can you imagine Glen Sather imposing a trapping defensive style on the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s? Absurd. We give you Italian football.
So, coach Giovanni Trappattoni, who survived for two days, finally gave in to the pressure yesterday and resigned. How on earth could he ever justify his record? In his two major tournaments at the helm -- the World Cup and Euro 2004 -- his team has faced, in order, Ecuador, Croatia, Mexico, South Korea, Denmark, Sweden and Bulgaria. Of those games, they beat only Ecuador and Bulgaria.
Spain's coach, Inaki Saez, stepped down yesterday, having suffered the indignation of being on the bench for Spain's first major defeat at the hands of Portugal in the preliminary round.
England's Sven-Goran Eriksson seems to have survived his team's heartbreak at the hands of the Portuguese, but it may just be a case of delaying the inevitable.
The tide has turned in Europe. Down is up and up is down. Who would dare predict what could happen from here to the tournament's end?