SPORTS

Accolades continue to pour in for Greece nearly a year after Euro 2004

Almost a year after its Euro 2004 triumph in Portugal, the Greek national soccer team is still raking in accolades for its accomplishment. The Laureus World Sports Academy, a group comprising retired sporting legends and established to celebrate the best in sport around the world, named Greece as the best team – in all sports – for 2004 at an awards ceremony in Portugal late Monday night. Other Best Team nominees included the Ferrari Grand Prix team, Porto soccer club – winner of last season’s Champions League and Intercontinental competitions – and the Boston Red Sox, the US baseball club who won last year’s World Series for the first time since 1918. The academy hailed the Greek national soccer squad for its extraordinary team spirit and application of shrewd strategy. It described coach Otto Rehhagel as a tactical genius and mastermind for producing maximum performance from his available resources. Rehhagel, accompanied by his wife, attended the ceremony along with his team assistant, Yiannis Topalidis, and player Takis Fyssas. The Greek team produced one of the biggest upsets in sporting history by arriving at last summer’s Euro 2004 tournament as 150-1 outsiders and walking away with the title a few weeks later. Greece had gone to the tournament without a single victory at a major tournament. In its most recent outing prior to Euro 2004, the 1994 World Cup finals in the USA, Greece was slaughtered by Argentina, Bulgaria, and Nigeria in first-phase group competition before returning home a humiliated squad. Greece’s coach at the time, Alkettas Panagoulias, opted to stay in the US to avoid confronting enraged fans in Athens. In its only other other major outing, the European Championships of 1980, Greece managed one draw. Laureus’s impressive board is loaded with icons, including 400-meter hurdles great and current board leader Edwin Moses, fellow runner Sebastian Coe, soccer players Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, golfers Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus, cricket players Vivian Richards and Ian Botham, swimmers Dawn Fraser and Mark Spitz, tennis players John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, basketball player Michael Jordan and pole vaulter Sergey Bubka. Other academy winners this year included the world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player Roger Federer of Switzerland as the Best Male Athlete, and British runner Kelly Holmes – a double gold medalist at the Athens Olympics in the women’s 800- and 1,500-meter events – who was named the Best Female Athlete in 2004.