Greece in the Euro soccer final

With a goal in the last seconds of extra time, Greece beat the Czech Republic in Porto last night to reach the final of the European soccer championship, a tournament that propelled the Greek team from perpetual underdogs to one of the top two teams of Europe. Traianos Dellas, a defender who had been impenetrable as a fort in previous games, headed the ball home from a corner by Vassilis Tsiartas just before the end of the first half of extra time. According to FIFA’s rules, if the teams had drawn in this extra period they would have played a second 15-minute half. The Greeks fought tenaciously against a team that was one of the tournament’s favorites, surviving a shaky start when the Czechs controlled possession and took several powerful shots at the goal. Through magnificent defending, inspired saves by goalie Antonis Nikopolidis and tireless running by the strikers, as well as some judiciously timed luck, the Greeks made up for any deficit in skills compared to the Czechs. The Greeks, who had never before got past the first round of any major soccer championship, played against a backdrop of the chants and cheers of 10,000 Greeks who rocked the stadium in Porto and another 11 million holding their breaths in groups in front of television sets at home. As the team won its games in the tournament and progressed, so did the support begin to overtake the country. With the final whistle blowing last night, stunned Czechs fell to the turf in the stadium where Greece began its unexpected, triumphal odyssey with a major upset on June 12, when it beat hosts Portugal 2-1. On Sunday, Greece and a Portugal thirsting for revenge will meet in the final in Lisbon. «This is unprecedented. Greece is in the final, on the strength of our worth. We showed once again that we are a very good team, we give everything we have in the stadium,» Dellas told Greek television immediately after the game. Throughout Greece, people took to the streets, waving flags, dancing, honking horns, firing guns and flares into the air. After the opening game against Portugal, Greece went on to draw 1-1 with Spain and lost 2-1 to Russia but passed into the quarterfinals on the strength of having scored more goals than Spain. The next great upset came in the quarterfinal when the Greeks, on the strength of a single, brilliant goal by Angelos Haristeas, beat France, sending the defending champions home and gaining a berth in last night’s semifinal. The Czechs got off to a blistering start, with Tomas Rosicky smashing a shot off Greece’s crossbar from just outside the box. A minute later, goalie Nikopolidis saved a powerful shot from Marek Jakulovski, sending it into the corner. For the first 10 minutes or so the Greeks seemed to struggle to get into the game but gradually found their footing and took the game to the Czechs, splitting possession almost evenly by the end of the game. The Czech captain, Pavel Nedved, went off a little before half time with an apparent knee injury after colliding with a Greek defender in the box. Giant striker Jan Koller was plagued throughout the match by Greece’s Michalis Kapsis. By the end of the match, the Czech’s had taken 16 shots at goal, to Greece’s nine, and four corners to Greece’s eight. But the only goal of the game went to Greece.