If you think it's just sport, here today and gone tomorrow and of no real-world significance, then roll the clock back a month and ponder what a mere soccer tournament has wrought on the two improbable countries that vie for the European championship today. Before the start of Euro 2004, the image of Greece was of a bumbling dysfunctional country that was surely going to fumble the ball on the Olympic Games later this summer. The Athens Games have lived in a shadow of cynicism for years as one story after another detailed various levels of organizational incompetence.
The Greek soccer team was just another extension of this self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. So what if Greece had won six games in a row to capture its qualifying group? When the games began in earnest, surely the Greeks would be unmasked as impostors.
Then, they shocked the world with a Group A win over Portugal, following that with a tie of Spain to capture the Group A title. Then, in the quarters, they toppled France. Mighty France! And, finally, the Czech Republic fell on Thursday in the semis.
There, in the stands at Porto, surrounded by her joyous countrymen and women, stood Gianna Angelopoulis-Daskalaki, the president of the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee, basking in the reflected glow of victory.
"After all the criticism we have received, it told the world of a country that wants to achieve something very important," she said. "Our football team have been the best possible ambassador for the Olympics. They gave the whole world the image of a united, disciplined group, capable of teamwork and hard work, who don't give up when the going gets tough. They built and prepared for a great performance and that is the message of Greece as we get so close to putting on the Olympics."
No amount of money could ever have given the image of Greece a worldwide facelift -- not to mention a prideful boost at home -- as have these mostly anonymous soccer players. The world has stopped jeering the Greeks and is now cheering them.
And what of Portugal? A month ago, pro soccer was still being referred to as "the black sheep of Portuguese society." Teams have been forever reneging on debts and been accused of such crimes as bribery of officials. The president of the Portugal Football League is in jail, awaiting trial on corruption charges.
On a broader scale, Portugal was also embarrassed on the eve of Euro 2004 by the breaking of a pedophilia ring that apparently has involved some prominent citizens. This in addition to the controversy that has raged over Euro 2004 itself, because the country spent the equivalent of a billion Canadian dollars on new stadia, while health care issues are ignored.
Today, because of Luis Figo et al, those serious issues are, at the very least, swept under the carpet in a wave of national fervour not experienced in any Portuguese citizen's lifetime. Not only did the country put on a marvellous show, in hosting the tournament, but its so-called "Golden Generation" of footballers is finally threatening to live up to its potential and win a major title. Just as importantly, Portugal defeated the country, Spain, in whose shadow they have existed for centuries.
All this because of a mere game?
It is one of those rare events that will produce a popular victor, no matter which side wins. As they say in the movies, it's the feel-good story of the millennium.
It's obvious that the Greeks go into this game, as usual, as solid underdogs. Portugal has so much in its favour. For starters, Portugal has a multi-talented, experienced squad that can play with brilliance at both ends of the pitch. The team has star power in Figo and Pauleta and Nuno Maniche and also has the man who may be, at least on this day, the best coach in soccer in Luis Felipe Scolari.
Most of all, Portugal will have a stadium filled with supporters.
Yes, the Greeks won that opening game three weeks ago, stunning the Portuguese 2-1 but a great deal has happened to both teams since then to mitigate the effects.
"You cannot make comparisons between the opening game and the final," said Traianos Dellas, the Greek defender who scored the winning goal in extra time Thursday. "Portugal have changed their team a lot since then and are looking a better side now."
"Everything has changed for both teams," Greek captain Theo Zagorakis said. "At the start of the tournament, Portugal had a lot of expectation and pressure while no one was expecting us to do well,"
The revenge card is being played up big in Portugal but that's pretty much newspaper talk.
"There's no revenge," said Maniche. "The most important thing is to give this country a further joy by winning the title."
What will make this game truly a show will be if Portugal can score first, forcing the Greeks out of their disciplined defensive posture. But if Portugal establishes a matching cautious approach it could be a grim struggle of defence against defence.
Then again, for the supporters of either side, the end will justify the means. If the Greeks prevail, it will be undoubtedly because they kept the more talented Portuguese attack under wraps.
And if the Portuguese win, it will be because they somehow were able to solve the complicated Greek defensive system.
Either way, the victorious fans are unlikely to rate this game on its artistry.
This is a battle of heart and will and the beauty will rest in the result.