From underdogs to champions, fun is a banned word with Greece

June 14, 2008

Greece training

From a tiny second division Portuguese stadium to the luxurious surroundings and facilities of an Alpine sports centre, Greece are feeling like true defending champions at the Euro 2008.

The atmosphere, however, is not nearly as happy as it was in Portugal.

Four years ago when Greece settled in Vila do Conde, a sleepy seaside town in the estuary of the Ave river north of Porto, noone, including myself would have ever dreamt that a few weeks later coach Otto Rehhagel’s men would be crowned champions of Europe.

The surroundings certainly did not point to that.

The early morning training sessions were attended by only a handful of reporters, security was almost non-existent and there was seemingly no pressure on the players.

We would park our cars metres from the stadium entrance, wait there for the team bus to arrive, chat to the players as they got off and as they signed autographs with the few security guards, and then we would make our way to the concrete stands to watch the training.

Afterwards, in a makeshift press centre consisting of a table and a few chairs for the coach and some players and a single light bulb, the press conference would be under way, lasting essentially as long as we would like. All 7 or 10 of us.

Then, sometimes we continued talking to the players on their way to the bus. They were just glad to be at the tournament and were enjoying themselves.

With no sockets in the stadium to plug in my computer, I would always had to walk out to the parking lot and file from my rented car.

As the tournament progressed and more media turned their attention to Greece, all of us who had been with the team from the start were given unofficial privileged access with information leaked out only to Greek reporters or myself, who by that time was having dinner almost nightly with the Greek FA people.

After Greece beat Portugal in the Euro 2004 final, captain Theo Zagorakis even brought out the Henry Delauney trophy just for us to take pictures with, hold it, even kiss it if we liked. We felt we had also played in the final — and won. That was how close we had gotten to the team.

This time round, the players enjoy perfect, yet isolated, training conditions in a five-star environment near the picturesque village of Seekirchen, north of Salzburg, with a large modern media centre for dozens of reporters who watch the team’s training daily. Security, refreshments, snacks and sponsors’ gifts abound for those who want them.

But for all that, the atmosphere in the press centre is far from jubilant, especially after Greece’s defeat in their opening game. Players and coaching staff have clammed up and news nowadays trickles out only through official channels.

Maybe a win against Russia could help lift the spirits of the team and give us a bit of that unadulterated fun we got used to four years ago.   

Karolos Grohmann, with the Greek team in Seekirchen

PHOTO: Greece’s head coach Otto Rehhagel checks his watch during a practice session in Seekirchen, June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Calle Toernstroem

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