Ελλάδα / Hellas / Greece
- Capital: Athens / Αθήνα
- Official Languages: Greek
- Nicknames: Ethniki (National); Galanolefki (Blue & White)
- Association: Hellenic Football Federation (HFF) / Ελληνική Ποδοσφαιρική Ομοσπονδία (ΕΠΟ)
- FIFA Code: GRE
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Round of 16 (2014)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): WINNERS (2004)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 8th (April 2008, October 2011)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 50th (September 2008)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 66th (September 1998)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 69th (March 2014, Septemeber 2015)
- Most Capped Player: Natalia Chatzigiannidou – 143 caps [as of Dec 2020]
- Top Scorer: Nikos Anastopoulos – 29 goals
Despite its passion for football, Greece (officially known as the Hellenic Republic) was historically considered as one of the ‘weaker’ sides in European football and it wouldn’t be until the 1980 European Championships when they would qualify for their first major tournament, although they would have to wait another 14 years before qualifying for their next tournament – the 1994 World Cup, with the respective sides not ‘pulling up trees’ in either appearance. Therefore when it came to the 2004 European Championships, Greece were considered rank outsiders to win the competition, but under the astute management of the experienced and wily Otto Rehhagel, their defensive style was perfect for the tournament format as they progressed all the way to the final and defeated hosts Portugal by a single goal. Certainly one of the greatest fairy-tale stories in European and World international football!!
Alas, results for the Hellenic side has not been as successful in recent years with the team having qualified for just two further tournaments since the heroics of 2004. Most famously, the national side lost both home and away to the Faroe Islands in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and finishing bottom of their group despite having been drawn as the top seeds. However, Greek football is on the rise once again with a number of talented young players being promoted to the national team. Despite finishing in third place in their Euro 2020 qualifying group and just missing out on qualification, it is a sure sign of progress for the Ethniki.
To talk about the 2004 European Championship winning country, we interviewed Stephen Kountourou, a contributor to the excellent Hellas Football, which is a superb website, podcast, and social media account that reports on everything involving the Greek Super League, the Ethniki, and Hellenic football in general. To find their accounts, follow the links below:
- Stephen’s Twitter: @SteveKountourou
- Hellas Football Website: http://hellasfooty.blogspot.com/
- Hellas Football Twitter: @HellasFooty
- Hellas Football Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HellasFooty
- Hellas Football Podcast: iTunes
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
In my personal opinion throughout all the time I have watched Greece, I would say the best player in the history of the national team is Giorgos Karagounis, hard-worker, dogged player who was the heart and sole of the team for years and even at the age of 36 he was absolute class.
As for the manager, I would give it to Otto Rehagel, the man delivered us an impossible dream in winning Euro 2004 and changed the mentality of the squad and what it was possible for that Greek to achieve something great.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Again I would say Karagounis, but just to give a different response I’d say Giorgos Samaras, the tall bearded forward, who was never a consistent goal scorer but when he did they were vital, most notably the last minute penalty against Ivory Coast to send us through to the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from the country currently?
In my slightly biased opinion as an Olympiakos supporter, Greece’s most talented player currently is Kostas Fortounis. He is seen by many, myself included, to be the most talented player of his generation and for club and country. The creative spark at the heart of our midfield, creates chances and goal scoring opportunities from nothing, and is one of the most active players of the pitch for us.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
The current state is complicated with Greece. We are still trying to find our footing on the international seen after nearly 6 years of sub-par performances. There is some semblance of improvement under current manager John Van’t Schip, there is a clear style of play we are attempting to implement. But in the games that have mattered whether it be to qualify for a major tournament or finish top of our nations league groups, we still settle for draws against sides we should really be defeating.
Q. Are there any Greek players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Well Greece have always produced some great talent, it’s more just allowing them to develop properly and allowing them to get to that next stage of becoming a proper senior player. The stand outs for me currently are the likes of Giannis Michailidis, the young defender from PAOK, Kostas Tzolakis, a talented goalkeeper for Olympiakos and most notably, Christos Tzolis also from PAOK who is a young winger and one that is a huge prospect for the national team going into the future.
Q. Looking at Greece’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
I think many would obviously turn to the numerous performances in Euro 2004, most notably the final against Portugal which would universally be considered as the best result in our history. In my time remembering and watching the national team, I would say the best performance was against Romania in the first leg of the 2014 World Cup playoffs in Piraeus where we were dominant throughout the game and won 3-1.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
I cannot look past the embarrassment of losing to the Faroe Islands at home 0-1 in 2014. I was stunned that we lost to a side with such a small population and quite frankly it still stands as my worst memory as a football supporter.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Greek national team?
The best thing about being a fan of the national team, is that, despite all the tribalistic rivalries of club football in Greece, everyone comes together to support what we know as, ‘the Ethniki Omada’ or national team as it translates to, and to see our nation and people represented on football’s biggest stage and that is something that fills many Greeks from all over the world with pride.
The worst thing, especially as a fan of Greece in recent times, is the expectation of what we can achieve with the team we have not being met on the field, and the disappointment missing out on major tournaments and sadly the running of the Greek football federation which, for the most part as been very poor to say the least.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
I guess the most notable amongst Greek fans would be “Ελλας ολε ολε, Δεν σταματω να τραγουδω ποτε…” which literally translates to “Greece ole ole, I never stop singing“. You tend to hear that one sung constantly, before, during and after the game. Unless we lose of course, then I don’t think I would want to translate what many Greek fans would be shouting in all honesty.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the Ethniki?
I would always look to the Greece home kit from Euro 2012, with its plain white shirt emblazoned with the blue cross and the Greece badge, along with ‘UEFA Euro 2004 Champions‘ written inside the collar, a very nice touch. We defeated Russia 1-0 with that shirt and that was the moment I fell in love with football, so a very personal choice for me.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Greek national team?
I, like many other Greek fans, would like to reach another major tournament. It has been nearly 8 years since the 2014 World Cup and we have been absent from every tournament since. My hope is that we can make it to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and finally end our miserable streak. It would give many people, who need some joy in their lives, something to cheer about.
A massive ευχαριστώ to Stephen from Hellas Football for answering our questions on the Ethniki. Remember you can find their excellent account in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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