GREECE IS THE WORD; The fairytale finish to Euro 2004 shows that underdogs can have their day at major football championships - here we look at why the suggestion 80/1 outsiders Wales can follow in Greek footsteps isn't quite as daft as it seems...
GARETH Bale and Andy King have set the Euro 2016 cat amongst the pigeons by saying Wales plan to do a Greece and triumph in France next month.
Bale vows that Wales aren't just going there to make up the numbers and believe they can actually win the tournament.
Midfield star King backed up the assertion by equating Wales to the Leicester team he has just helped to a stunning triumph in the Premier League.
"We've got the best player in the tournament, so why can't we win it," declared King.
"They said Leicester were 5000-1 outsiders and couldn't win the league at the start of the season, so that's given us a bit of belief with Wales, who are also outsiders for the Euros."
" It's hard to call which is the most incredible football achievement - Leicester winning the Premier League this season, or Greece's totally unexpected triumph in Euro 2004.As with Wales in qualifying for this summer's finals in France, Greece's success back then was based very much on packing their defence at times, brilliant organisation, fantastic team spirit and resilience, and picking sides off to win 1-0. But they certainly didn't have anybody anywhere near as good as Bale in their team. Nor did they have a midfield magician of Aaron Ramsey's artistry, although during that tournament skipper Theodoros Zagorakis did shine and was named the best player of the competition.
However, perhaps it says everything that Zagorakis played his club football with Leicester, AEK Athens, lowly Bologna in Italy and PAOK in his Greece homeland.
He certainly wasn't rated in the PS40m-plus bracket that Ramsey is, let alone able to attract the type of world record fee Bale commanded upon joining Real Madrid.
Besides a similar style of play, there are other analogies to be drawn between Greece 2004 and Chris Coleman's Welsh Class of 2016.
The Greeks were only 19th ranked team in Europe heading into those Euros, with Wales 24th this time around. As such, Greece were massive underdogs, so too Wales.
Back in 2004 there were some truly great players on show with other countries.
Portugal boasted Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rui Costa and Deco. France had Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and a host of World Cup winners in their ranks.
Italy, who had been defeated 2-1 by Wales in qualifying, possessed Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro del Piero and Francesco Totti.
Germany, Spain and Holland had cracking individuals. As for England, well a young Rooney, Owen, Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham and Scholes wasn't bad for starters.
This time around, Wales too will come up against nations with a greater depth, shall we say, of stellar talents, even if only Portugal can match an individual as good as Gareth Bale.
Yet Wales can take real hope from what the Greeks so incredibly achieved 12 years ago.
They kicked off by beating Portugal 2-1 in their first game, drew 1-1 with Spain and then lost their final group match to Russia.
Yes Russia, Wales' final group opponents this time around, too. An omen, possibly? The Greeks finished second behind host nation Portugal before defeating France 1-0 in the quarter-finals, the Czech Republic 1-0 in the semis and Ronaldo's Portuguese 1-0 again in the final.
They triumphed magnificently, yet to this day few of their final winners are remembered. It was more about the collective than individuals, but if they can do it...
Anyway, we've taken a look at Greece 2004 versus Wales 2016 and marked the players out of 10 for general international ability, not just based upon what the Greeks achieved over six short, sharp games.
Our outcome suggests Wales have the better team, so maybe the theory espoused by Bale and King isn't quite so daft as it sounds?ANTONIOS NIKOPOLIDIS 8 V WAYNE HENNESSEY 7 NIKOPOLIDIS was actually a decent enough keeper who kept a host of clean sheets and was named the best number one at the tournament. Yet he's still remembered best for being a George Clooney lookalike, than for his deeds between the sticks.
Hennessey is finally getting the recognition he deserves and will be a Wales kingpin out in France.
GIOURKAS SEITARIDIS 8 V CHRIS GUNTER 6 SEITARIDIS was a class act at right-back and it's no coincidence he played for Atletico Madrid and a FC Porto team who had just won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho. Won the match-winning penalty in the opening game when he was bundled over by Ronaldo, and the corner kick for the winning goal in the final. Gunter is unsung, but always solid and reliable and could become Wales' record cap holder. That would give him legendary status.
MICHALIS KAPSIS 6 V JAMES CHESTER 6 CENTRE-BACK Kaspis punched way above his weight in the tournament. His day job was playing for Apeol, Levadiakos, Olympiakos and Bordeaux, hardly stellar clubs. Chester has struggled to get club game time this season, but he has leapfrogged James Collins and established himself at the centre of the Welsh defence.
TRAIANOS DELLAS 7 V ASHLEY WILLIAMS 8 DELLAS was the main rock around which the Greek defence was built, playing at club level for Roma, AEK Athens and Sheffield United. But he wasn't as good as Ash has been for Wales. Quite rightly Bale and Ramsey get the headlines, but were it not for the captain's brilliance at the back and leadership qualities, Wales wouldn't have qualified.
TAKIS FYSSAS 6 V BEN DAVIES 7 FYSSAS was a Benfica player during the tournament and, like Spurs man Davies, could play either at left-back or centre-back. He was in the team of the tournament, but quickly moved into Scottish club football. Davies is a cut above that and, while playing second fifddle to Danny Rose at Spurs, still has a huge future ahead of him STELIOS GIANNAKOPOULOS 7 V NEIL TAYLOR 7 NOT a complete like for like, because Wales play with five at the back. Giannakopoulos was more forwardthinking in his approach and scored 12 goals in 77 appearances for his country, including the qualifying winner against Spain. Also top scored for Greece in their next batch of World Cup qualifiers. Taylor is quick, solid, tigerish in the tackle and pivotal to the Wales game plan.
KOSTAS KATSOURANIS 6 V JOE LEDLEY 6 DEFENSIVE midfielder Katsouranis playted 116 times for Greece, but like Ledley wasn't with particularly massive clubs. He broke into the team during the tournament with a string of consistent performances. Ledley has become a key figure for Wales shielding the back five and Coleman is desperately hoping he is fit for the Euros.
ANGELOS BASINAS 7 V JOE ALLEN 7 MAJORCA, AEK Athens, Portsmouth and Alres Avignon were amongst Basinas' clubs. Hardly Liverpool FC. However, he was a hard-working midfidler who helped make the team tick, similar to Allen's role with Wales. Allen doesn't make the cut in Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool starting X1, but he's a shoo-in on Coleman's teamsheeet.
THEODOROS ZAGORAKIS 7 V AARON RAMSEY 9 GREECE'S captain was named man of the tournament in 2004 and spent 14 full years as captain. But while he drove the Greeks to their triumph, he wasn't deemed good enough by Martin O'Neill to make Leicester's first X1. Ramsey is majestic, scores, creates, probes and passes. The Euros could be his stage.
ANGELOS CHARISTEAS 8 V GARETH BALE 10 AS the main goalscorer, Charisteas is one of the Greek stars whose name is remembered. Hit the winner in the final and in total struck 25 goals during 88 internationals. But, with respect, he's not Gareth Bale. Only Cristiano Ronalo will enter Euro 2016 as a better player than our Gareth.
ZISIS VRYZAS 6 V HAL ROBSON-KANU 6 TWO of the, shall we say lesser lights of the side. Vryzas played for Perugia and Fiorentina in Italy and was viewed as someone whose hard running created openings for his team-mates. Robson-Kanu is a fans' favourite and is often asked to run the channels to create space for Bale and Ramsey to rampage into.
TOTAL GREECE 76 (OUT OF 110) WALES 79 (OUT OF 110)
Greece defender Traianos Dellas looks delighted to get his hands on the Henri Delauney Trophy after his side beat hosts Portugal in the final of the European Championships in 2004
Gareth Bale says Wales have the ability to emulate Greece, shock Euro winners in 2004
Angelos Charisteas wheels away in delight after scoring the goal that took the European Championships trophy to Athens
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|Publication:||Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||May 29, 2016|
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