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Optimism abounds in Greece

Greece's triumph at UEFA EURO 2004 represents the pinnacle of the country's long-standing involvement in football.
Optimism abounds in Greece
Theodoros Zagorakis lifts the Henri Delaunay trophy after Greece defeated Portugal in the UEFA EURO 2004 ©Getty Images

Optimism abounds in Greece

Greece's triumph at UEFA EURO 2004 represents the pinnacle of the country's long-standing involvement in football.

Although the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) was founded in 1926, football had been extremely popular in Greece from the last decade of the 19th century, with Athens side Panionios GSS being formed in 1890. What prompted the EPO's somewhat belated arrival was that the leading clubs were beginning to expand their activities and wanted to play competitions at national level.

The new organisation quickly assumed a catalytic role in the development of the Greek game. The EPO needed just a year to become a member of FIFA and, during the same period, the first-division championship became a reality. However, as elsewhere in Europe, the national tournaments were halted by the Second World War. Come peacetime, football was again a major priority for the population, and it required only a short-term adjustment before the sport could recover its place of prominence.

The EPO became a founder member of UEFA in 1954. By respecting both the European governing body and its rules, the EPO has always tried to assist in efforts aimed at the sport's growth, not solely in Greece but across the continent. Entering the second decade of the 21st century, the EPO had more than 5,773 teams under its aegis. With most operating as amateurs, 3,700 of these clubs were active in official championships at all levels and age groups. Recent years, in particular, have seen rapid progress, and many of the country's football stadiums are being modernised to meet UEFA specifications.

The professional championship comprises three divisions: Super League, Division B and Division C. The amateur division D is also played nationwide; here it is mandatory for teams to field at least four players aged under 20 for the sake of youth advancement. Division C sides must deploy at least two Under-21 players. The national cup competition, involving only professional clubs, starts with single matches in the first four rounds; in the event of a draw, extra time and, if needed, a penalty shoot-out will ensue. In the round of 16, replays are used to separate teams where required. The quarter-finals and semi-finals are played over home and away legs.

Greek clubs, led by Olympiacos FC and Panathinaikos FC, have been a constant presence in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League in latter years. Panathinaikos reached the European Champion Clubs' Cup final in 1971, going down to AFC Ajax, and on two further occasions got as far as the semi-finals (1984/85 and 1995/96). Olympiacos, AEK Athens FC, Panionios and Larissa FC have also performed with distinction in UEFA competition.

However, it is Greece's triumph at UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal which represents the pinnacle of the country's footballing achievement as well as a huge source of national pride. Otto Rehhagel's charges overcame the Portuguese hosts thanks to a solitary Angelos Charisteas goal in the Lisbon final. Including the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012, where Fernando Santos's men progressed to the quarter-finals, the senior side have contested the final round of six major tournaments – two World Cups and four UEFA European Championships, including each of the last three.

The U21 team have been losing finalists in two UEFA European U21 Championships, in 1988 and 1998, having always been one of the continent's most respected squads. The U19s followed their example by marching to the 2007 European final, succumbing only to Spain. Women's football and futsal have also taken great strides forward, with the progress of Greece's teams giving further cause for optimism.

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Giorgos Girtzikis

Giorgos Girtzikis

Nationality: Greek
Date of birth: 18 February 1947
Association president since: 2015

• Born in Xanthi, in northern Greece, Giorgos Girtzikis worked for 40 years in a dairy industry firm as a senior executive. Now he is a consultant in the same firm. From an early age, he showed a keen interest in politics. He was elected as a member of the municipal council of Vistonida and then the prefecture council of Xanthi.

• He played amateur football as a winger for Thraki Sydini FC and took an active part in establishing the local Xanthi football union. He became their vice-president in 1980 and went on to serve as president until 1997, when he was elected to the board of the Greek FA. From 1997 to 2000, he was EPO deputy general secretary, then deputy treasurer from 2000 to 2003, and head treasurer of the association from 2003 to 2012. He also served as president of SKODA Xanthi FC for four years (2000-2004), and was appointed president of the FA’s central refereeing committee in October 2014. On 23 January 2015, he was elected as the new president of EPO.

• Giorgos Girtzikis believes that “football is the king of sports and needs the support of anyone working within it. We all must protect it, be vigilant and be kind in our assessments”.

General secretary


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