Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

A Greek Tragedy: The Demise of Football in Greece

“It is the greatest gift God ever gave us. We have given the Greek people more than joy with the moment. It will be our pride forever.”—ex-Greece captain Theo Zagorakis, 2004.

A sense of pride remains amongst the Greeks forever. Despite the poor financial conditions of the country for such a large period of time and ongoing political problems which seem to have no end, the Greek population will always have Angelos Charisteas‘ goal to cherish for ages to come. The goal which sealed a historic European Championship—their first and only major trophy, and a goal which proved to be the unexpected beginning of the end in Greece’s footballing story. The Greece National Team, and Greek football as a whole, has been in a downward spiral ever since.

The demise of Greek football

That night in Lisbon saw a whole different change in structure. Before the tournament in Portugal, Greece had never won a game in a major international tournament, and astonishingly, never even scored a goal. Otto Rehhagel, Greece’s German coach at the time, was still reeling from disappointments of his failures in Germany at the time of his appointment, but he had belief in his side and in his own abilities.

He was appointed in 2001, and his first two games ended in contrasting fortunes. A 5-1 defeat to Finland in a World Cup qualifier was followed by a 2-2 draw against England at Old Trafford—a game largely remembered for David Beckham‘s dramatic injury-time equaliser which sent England to the 2002 World Cup.

The failures of the early beginnings went on to inspire a generation. Rehhagel was always known for the defensive solidity he inserted in his teams and the unity that he bought in them. The same methods that proved successful with the likes of Werder Bremen and Kaiserslautern were instilled in the Greek side.

Greece, like Leicester this past season in the Premier League, were given astronomical odds to go all the way in the Euros. But, just like Leicester, they did it. They squared off against hosts Portugal in the opening game at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, and ran out as shock winners. A draw and a defeat later on in the group stages against Spain and Russia respectively left them on four points—level with Spain and with an equal goal difference, but they qualified as group runners-up.

Defending European Champions France were up next for this stern Greek side. They were highly unfancied, not that it would affect this group of brave men. They beat France thanks to Angelos Charisteas’ goal around the hour mark.

Czech Republic, with the likes of Pavel NedvědTomáš Rosický and Petr Čech amongst their ranks, were next in the semi-final. A silver goal by Traianos Dellas after a goalless 90 minutes ended the Czech golden generation’s hopes of making history.

And so it was Portugal in the final. The game which started the tournament would be the one to end it. Portugal’s own golden generation were up against Greece’s mighty heroes, 300 kilometres away from where they had kicked off. The Estádio da Luz in Lisbon was waiting, and Greece did not disappoint. Angelos Charisteas, the man who scored the most vital goals in the tournament, was the hero once again as they ran out 1-0 winners.

What was similar amongst all of Greece’s games was their unity and defensive contributions. Greece conceded four goals in three games in the group stages but tightened up and conceded none in the knockout rounds. All of their goals in the group stages came from crosses from the right, an acclaim to their devotion and commitment. The team returned home to the greatest roar from their countrymen, with their team bus having the most lauding message: “Ancient Greece had 12 gods, modern Greece has 11.”

What was set to be a wholesome change in football in the Mediterranean country wasn’t to be. Greek football changed for the worse, ever since.

Greece failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, finishing fourth in a qualifying group containing Ukraine, Turkey and Denmark amongst others. They qualified for Euro 2008 and as defending champions finished bottom of their group, behind Russia, Sweden and eventual champions Spain. Otto Rehhagel helped Greece qualify for the 2010 World Cup which was to be held in South Africa, but left soon after Greece were knocked out—once again in the group stages. They did seal their first ever World Cup win, however: a 2-1 success against Nigeria.

It proved to be Rehhagel’s last ever win as coach of the national team. Portuguese Fernando Santos was asked to replace the legend and he did a fairly decent job. Euro 2012 was seen as a success as Greece managed to make it to the knockout round, losing out to Germany in the quarter-final. They also achieved their best-ever finish at the World Cup in Brazil, making it to the last 16 before losing out to surprise package Costa Rica on penalties.

Fernando Santos left after the tournament and was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, who only lasted four games, losing three and drawing one before getting the sack after a shocking defeat to Faroe Islands. Ranieri’s failures were carried on by Kostas Tsanas, Sergio Markarian, and Michael Skibbe, whose collective lack of success meant that Greece failed to qualify for the ongoing Euros.

The collapses on the pitch have largely been down to the Greece’s struggling economy and the poor distribution of income amongst Greek clubs. Olympiacos, Greece’s most successful club, seem to be financially stable, mainly due to the fact that they’ve had frequent Champions League qualification. The Erythrolefkoi have won the last five Greek Super League titles and 18 in the last 20 seasons. Only Panathinaikos come close to them with 20 Super League titles—the last coming in 2010.

AEK Athens, one of the most popular names in Greek football, recently came back from the second tier of the league system, having been relegated in 2013. They’re on the road to recovery having secured Europa League qualification for the upcoming campaign. PAOK, another of Greece’s great teams, with Dimitar Berbatov on their books, have managed to up their poor status by earning a Champions League qualifying spot.

The national financial crisis has had its say on attendances in domestic games. From the peak of having more than 7000 fans in each game on average, there are a mere 3000 attending each game. Top clubs have declared bankruptcy, which has had a large impact on the national side.

Teams can’t afford proper equipment for the training of youth players and the national team has to rely on the older players such as Jose Holebas and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos. Clubs can’t pay up big contracts to keep hold of their players that reduces the skill in their teams. The moneybags of the Middle East and the United States are proving to be more lucrative for players at the twilight of their careers.

Greece has taken a massive hit in financial and footballing terms ever since their greatest night in Lisbon in 2004. With the way the situation is and the country’s sorry state, a recovery seems unlikely. For now, Greece is going to slump even further and a repeat of the heroics of 2004 seems largely absurd.


More Posts

Send Us A Message