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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Stunned France crash out of Euro 2004

LISBON (Reuters) - Greece produced the biggest upset in European Championship history when they knocked out holders France with a 1-0 quarter-final victory.

Greece, among the rank outsiders when the tournament started, scored the only goal after 65 minutes when Angelos Haristeas rose unchallenged to power a header past French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez from six metres.

It was the third time in four matches that France had fallen behind but this time there was no way back.

Their dream of becoming the first team to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy is over and Greece will now face the Czech Republic or Denmark in the semi-finals.

Until the goal, the match lacked the passion, vibrancy and drama of Portugal's penalty shootout win over England in the first quarter-final, with the crowd largely anaesthetised by the lethargic play.

France, though, were poorer than Greece throughout. Without the injured Patrick Vieira in midfield, France lacked their driving force with playmaker Zinedine Zidane playing well below his best.

Zidane and Lilian Thuram set a new record for European Championship finals appearances by playing their 14th matches each since 1996, beating the record they had held jointly with seven players.

But Zidane's most notable contribution was picking up a yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Greek defender Traianos Dellas a minute before the break.

There was not much more of note in the opening 45 minutes in which neither team dominated but Greece had the better chances.

They went close to the opening goal after 15 minutes when a Costas Karagounis free kick reached Costas Katsouranis close to goal whose attempted tap-in from close range was blocked by Barthez on the line with the Greeks already raising their arms to celebrate a goal.

The French keeper also tipped over a dipping 30-metre shot from defender Takis Fyssas after 37 minutes.

The French came close to a goal in the 25th minute when defender Bixente Lizarazu crossed to Thierry Henry but the striker's header sailed just wide of Antonis Nikopolidis's right post.

France, who came from behind to beat England and draw with Croatia on their way to winning Group B, just never found their rhythm, while Greece had more zest all over the pitch and were content to defend in numbers.

Henry wasted another golden opportunity in the dying minutes to leave Greece's German coach Otto Rehhagel in ecstasy and still on course to become the first foreign coach to lead a side to victory in this competition.

Jacques Santini's reign as French coach, however, ended in a shock exit few could have predicted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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