Greece opens Euro 2004 tonight

At 7 p.m. today and under the glaring spotlight of international attention, Greece’s national team enters the fray of a major soccer championship for the first time since the humiliation of the 1994 World Cup. In the opening match of the Euro 2004 championships, the team successfully coached over the past three years by German Otto Rehhagel, plays hosts Portugal – one of the favorites to win the trophy – before a strong home crowd in Oporto. Rehhagel was cautiously optimistic in comments ahead of the game, which will be Greece’s first in the finals of an European championship since 1980 in Italy, when the national squad was knocked out in the first round. «We are very happy about tomorrow’s match and it’s so seldom a Greek team plays the opening match of a major tournament,» he said. «It is an extraordinary day.» «Of course, we play the favorites and we are the outsiders but outsiders always have a chance as well,» Rehhagel said. «The pressure is on them. All the players have to do is place their hands on their heart and give the best for their country.» Greece last played Portugal in a friendly away match last November that ended 1-1. Portugal’s Brazilian coach Luis Felipe Scolari singled out Greece’s defensive positioning for praise. «One of the best things about the Greek team is their defensive positioning,» he said yesterday. «We will try to win but that does not always mean fielding 10 strikers.» «Greece is a strong team,» said Portuguese captain Fernando Couto. «They gave us a lot of trouble [in November], they defend very well.» In any case, Rehhagel’s players will be trying to forget the 1994 disaster in the US, when Greece lost all three first-round matches without scoring a single goal. They let in 10.