by James Oddy

Euro 2004 was a peculiar tournament. Italy and Germany, always teams who seem capable of winning regardless of their level of performance, were so atrocious they exited in the group stages. Spain flattered to deceive, as they often did before tiki taki, and made a similarly early exit. France showed signs of brilliance as well as lethargy. The Czech Republic, and Milan Baros, played exhilarating, attacking football. England`s supposed `golden generation` looked capable of going far, Wayne Rooney looking like a player even more exciting than he had previously suggested.

As the tournament progressed, it felt like anything could happen. Indeed, it almost felt as if that so rare thing in football, the happy, narratively satisfying ending, could happen. Portugal, at home, appeared to have everything going for them. The experience and talent of the likes of Rui Costa and Luis Figo. The good form and enthusiasm of a group of Porto champions league winners, such as Deco and Ricardo Carvalho, and a certain 19 year old called Cristiano Ronaldo. Upon reaching the final, it seemed inconceivable that they were anything other than 90 minutes away from finishing as tournament winners.

Yet, it was a 6ft 3 Greek who proved to have the final word. Angelos Charisteas scored 3 goals in that tournament, all crucial. An equaliser against group rivals Spain, the winner against quarter final opponents France, and most importantly of all, the winner in the final.

The Euro 2004 triumph came as his club career seemed to have stalled. Physically imposing and with the ability to find the net on a regular basis, his impressive form as a youngster for Aris Thessaloniki earned him a move to Werder Bremen. He had started well, but slowly began to be edged out, usurped be Ailton and Ivan Klansnic in his second season as Bremen won a league and cup double.

On a wider scale, the Greek team as a whole went to the tournament in turmoil. Unsustainable spending and debt levels had plunged the whole Greek league into crisis. There was a very real threat that when the squad returned from the tournament, at which they were 80-1 outsiders, the majority of players would not have a club to return to.

But Otto Rehhagels team rode their luck and played to their strengths. Well organised, defensive and with Charisteas offering just enough up front, it was hard to completely warm to them as more entertaining nations fell by the wayside. Still, the collective effort and determination despite the bad news from home was admirable.  And they ultimately played there part in a thrilling final. While the football on offer was not the best, as Portugal wasted chance after chance and corner after corner the building of tension and emotion was incredible.  In contrast, Greece had one corner, form which Charisteas managed to create just enough space. His delirious celebrations, along with his teammates, were enough to eradicate any hard feelings against their style of play. It was as if it was beginning to dawn on everyone, including the Portuguese players, and, most of all the Greek players, that they could actually hold on and win the thing.

After his exploits at the Euros, Charisteas continued his good goal scoring form for Bremen.  He even found himself just outside of the top ten for European footballer of the year, placing higher than the likes of Kaka and Zinedine Zidane. Yet still he found it hard to nail down a regular place for his club side as the season wore on.  He eventually headed to Ajax, where he again fell down the pecking order, promoting a suicidal move to fierce rivals Feynoord. Unsurprisingly, he failed to settle at the De Kuip, as a section fans refused to forget or forgive his association with the Amsterdam club.

He has led a nomadic career since, with purple patches of form promoting big guns such as Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen to snap him up. Again, he has been in and around good squads, helping Schalke to impressive cup runs, but never becoming a regular. His appearances for Greece have been more consistent, managing to become the team’s second highest scorer in its history. The team itself however has reverted to type, qualifying for tournaments yet failing to replicate their previous heroics.

Yet, despite the stop start nature of his career, he will always be remembered for that crazy few weeks in the summer of 2004.  As ex Bolton man and teammate Stelios Giannakopoulous said of Charisteas “after the tournament he became a national hero, and an idol to millions of people”, which is something that players of much greater natural talent can only ever hope to emulate.