The international tournament that is the greatest of them all is a much-debated question; which of those – whether it be one edition of the World Cup, the Copa America or the European Championships – has bestowed the finest individual displays? Which of those was the perfect paradise for the footballing purists- Totaalvoetbal of 1974 or Tiki Taka’s 2010 takeover, anyone? – How could *it* be given to the Dutch, *they* did not even win the competition; a brilliantly organised and potent Germany side, led by Franz Beckenbauer and Wolfgang Overath did, as a matter of fact.
Yet, one of these highly anticipated competitions that simultaneously entertained and shocked the masses that observed what was an immensely engaging spectacle, was the tournament best known for Greece’s victory, which widened the realism of the underdogs dreams and wishes.
The 12th edition of the European Championships, UEFA Euro 2004, though perhaps disappointing supporters with a conservative Greek victory, did showcase an array of components that can argue the following as an exceptional experience, simply based on how complete it was. Complete with timeless encounters, a collection of wonderful goals, superb individual displays as well as surprisingly impressive, and, underwhelming team campaigns, Euro 2004 “had it all”.
Let’s begin with only some of the encounters that still cause great interest and debate today. On an entertainment scale, for many the final, the most important game, lacked such, but games that preceded it brought about a barrel of fun. The second semi-final, in which Portugal met The Netherlands, offered a brilliant performance from the orchestrator Luis Figo, and a contender for goal of the tournament from Maniche. A Ronaldo header sealed victory in what was a very attack-minded encounter. I like to call Euro 2004 the tournament of attacking; 77 goals were scored in total, with Milan Baros of The Czech Republic scoring 5, more than any other player. Such irony is on display, though, and this is in the form of the eventual winner. A preposterous outcome, you could say.
Continuing, France, the holders of the competition defeated fellow contenders England in an enthralling 2-1 group-stage win. Having struggled embarrassingly to reclaim the World Cup two years prior, which they so formidably dominated on home soil in 1998, France were determined to at least retain ownership of the European crown. Still expecting magic by the mercurial, yet now unreliable Zinedine Zidane, “Zizou” did not disappoint on this occasion, carrying France back from a goal down via a penalty and a brilliant free-kick.
Furthermore, France, like many other of the sides richly endorsed with promise and expectations, failed to deliver the goods when needed most. France, for example, though very interesting tactically, especially in the deployment of Zidane; with licence to move between left-sided and central spaces, were very underwhelming, with Zidane’s inability to support the pivot of Claude Makalele and Patrick Vieira defensively speaking, and William Gallas’ inability to overlap troubled France in a continuative regard, and contributed greatly to the poorness in the execution of what was arguably a brilliant tactical outlook. Why not prioritise the more attack-minded and actual full-back, Willy Sagnol?
Zidane, coming to terms with the potential need for change, retired from international football after the tournament had ended, only to reinstate himself as the creative lynchpin during what was an incredible 2006 World Cup tournament, only to end in the midst of chaos, embodied by a headbutt. Glory was within inches of Zidane’s reach.
Not only France, of course, but also England, not for the first time, failed to satisfy the wants of the masses. Considered to be the Golden Generation, England perhaps offered the most all-rounded staring XI of all teams participating. Yet, the tactical flexibility was lacking; a midfield consisting of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes sounds stupendous, yet is obsolete and ruined if one player is only deployed for the sake of fitting them into the team – why position Scholes on the left-side of midfield? Such a waste of such an extraordinary talent. Both Italy and Germany turned up and turned back in quick succession, with the both failing to progress past the group stages.
As a result, dark horses began to emerge within each of the four groups, with the most exciting of these being Czech Republic; such great range of attacking resources and I thought the execution of such an attack-minded diamond 4-4-2 formation was exquisite –Zonal Marking’s analysis of the same side summarised the brilliance of their tactics perfectly;
“The reason Bruckner could afford to play two strikers and three attacking midfielders was because none of those midfielders were passengers when the Czechs didn’t have the ball. Rosicky, Nedved and Poborsky were all hard-working players, and therefore the Czechs were never outnumbered in midfield”
Ballon D’or winner Pavel Nedved was particularly exceptional – the focal point of the midfield, Nedved was the locksmith between midfield and attack, who opened the door to the wonderland of goal scoring opportunities, and this was epitomised against the Netherlands, who the Czechs overcame in an incredible 3-2 victory. While also utilised on the left-flank, however, Nedved was, in my opinion, perhaps at his finest in a central role. An injury sustained in the semi-final against Greece truly plagued the Czechs attacking continuity, with Greece able to swarm the midfield.
Like many great tournaments, many topped the cake that was Euro 2004, with the cherry on top being the cutting-edge quality; hosts Portugal were one of the renowned favourites entering the competition, boasting a great set of players, some of whom derived from FC Porto’s Champions League winning side; Jorge Andrade, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Maniche and Deco all started in the final against eventual winners Greece. Maniche proved to add balance, energy and preciseness to Luiz Felipe Scolari’s midfield, supporting the holding midfielder, Costinha in defensive duties, while also contributing to the creation of chances alongside Deco. But, perhaps unsurprisingly – which is ironic considering many outcomes during the tournament – it was Cristiano Ronaldo who, like Maniche, took many plaudits from those dishing them out. Positioned on the right-side of midfield in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, Ronaldo’s pace, inquisitiveness and constant willingness to attack the opposition full-back at will offered a refreshing aftertaste for the ever-consuming supporter.
But, it was, as most know, Greece who to literally everyone’s surprise, defeated the hosts and the finals’ firm favourites to claim their first and to date, only international title. Greece’s conservative game plans received very little plaudits in comparison with Portugal, The Czech Republic and Denmark, but, what must be revered and respected was the organisation and tactical discipline included, thus making this Greece side a great watch on a tactical front.
Deploying a regimented 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation depending on the specific match, two holding midfield players (Angelos Basinas and Kostas Katsouranis) would sit deep and close down passing lanes, not allowing opposition-control of Greece’s final third, with captain, Theodoros Zagorakis, either supporting the double pivot, or making use of the right-side channel via forward runs. Both wingers, and in particular Stelios Giannakopoulos on Greece’s left-side, supported the left-back which prevented both Ronaldo and Figo, who would alternate flanks, in the final against Portugal. Stelios still offered an outlet in attack, however, providing some impressive runs into the final third, which would force the opposition full-back to maintain a position in its own half. Greece’s use of low blocks and a static, yet industrious midfield led to the sacrificing of possession, – Greece dominated the game without the ball, which other teams failed to counteract – forcing the need to make good use of set-pieces, as shown by the only goal in the final, a Basinas corner was met by a Angelos Charisteas header.
Traianos Dellas was intriguingly used in a sweeper-role, in behind what was a three-man backline within a man-marking system, which was used against quarter-final opponents France. This interested me greatly, as the inclusion of a libero/sweeper was something that was very much traditional, yet forgotten, and supports the inference of though disciplined there was a great sense of variation to Greece’s tactics depending on personnel and the tactics of the opposition. Greece’s surprising, yet deserved victory, depending on your perception of football, is nonetheless a case of quality being shown in various forms.
My team of the tournament, displays the players that had significant impact on any good shown by their respective sides, while doting on individual performances and/or tactical offerings.
Goalkeeper: Ricardo, Portugal
Maybe not as highlighted as either Edwin van der Sar of The Netherlands or Petr Cech of The Czech Republic, but performed well in the penalty shoot-out vs. England.
Right-Back: Gianluca Zambrotta, Italy
A consistent attacking threat for the rather underwhelming Italians.
Centre-Back: Traianos Dellas, Greece
Brought the ball into midfield in a sweeping role that has overseen developments in the modern game. Scored the infamous “Silver goal” against a Nedved injury-stricken Czech Republic side in extra-time.
Centre-Back: Ricardo Carvalho, Portugal
Replaced Fernando Couto in the group-stages, and did not disappoint. Excellent in the air and with the ball, and perhaps the defender of the tournament. Secured a move to Chelsea FC in the following Summer transfer window.
Left-Back: Marek Jankulovski, The Czech Republic
One of The Czech Republic’s many, many attacking resources. Dominated the left-flank, with great guile and energy.
Defensive/Centre-Midfielder: Theodoros Zagorakis, Greece
Industrious in midfield, Zagorakis was essential to coach Otto Rehhagel’s tactics. Zagorakis was also named UEFA Player of the Tournament.
Centre-Midfielder: Maniche, Portugal
Contributed to the attack from a midfield position, and scored an exceptional goal against the Netherlands.
Centre/Attacking-Midfielder: Pavel Nedved, The Czech Republic
Superb in carrying the weight of creative nous, while also working hard to add discipline to a rather expansive diamond formation. The Czech were very unfortunate for Nedved to be injured at the worst of times.
Right-Winger: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Outshone many of his teammates in a competition which only propelled his reputation. Gave Ashley Cole, another brilliant performer during the tournament, a torrid time on Portugal’s right-wing in the Quarter-final clash with England.
Centre-Forward: Wayne Rooney, England
England’s best performer. Simply put.
Left-Winger: Arjen Robben, The Netherlands
Was brilliant in the group-stages, swinging in crosses at will from the left-flank. Direct and quick, Robben was unlucky to run out of ideas against Portugal in the Semi-finals.
Rui Costa, Portugal/ Milan Baros, The Czech Republic/ Zinedine Zidane, France/ Ashley Cole, England/ Petr Cech, The Czech Republic/ Giourkas Seitaridis, Greece