Cup success energises Greece as it prepares for Olympics
EVEN before their plane touched down to a hero’s welcome yesterday it was clear the Greek football team’s Euro 2004 success would impact way beyond their own sport.
With just five weeks to go until Greece hosts the 21st modern Olympic Games, the national side’s success on the football field is set to help transform what until now promised to be a chaotic and poorly attended affair into a great sporting event.
Supporters - still hoarse from wild night-long celebrations - roared "Bring on Brazil" as the shock European championship winners headed toward the all-marble Panathenian stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.
"This is a great moment of joy," said the prime minister, Costas Caramanlis, who had travelled to Lisbon to watch Greece beat Portugal 1-0 in Sunday’s final. "I am sure this will peak at the Olympic Games."
The Greeks woke yesterday to the "responsibility of success". Not even the road chaos, a fact of life since preparations began for the Olympics, could diminish the sense of relief.
Angelos Charisteas’s Euro 2004 winning goal against Portugal was about more than football. It was akin to the drowning man being rescued by a luxury liner.
Athens, the city with no idea of time management and medieval plumbing, is forever changed.
Banners proclaimed "nenikekamen" (victory is ours) which Philippides uttered after the triumph over the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC.
The modern victory will have far-reaching effects. Charisteas’s header may have saved Greece’s tourist industry and rescued the 21st Olympiad.
Apostolos Zoupaniotis, a journalist, said: "It goes beyond football now."
The "high" could not have come at a more propitious time, with Greeks grumbling over the Olympics’ 6 billion bill.
Sluggish tickets sales - only half of the five million briefs have been sold with less than six weeks to go - picked up dramatically yesterday.
Athens’ image has been one of construction delays, chaos and political buck-passing.
But as the Euro 2004 winning team was welcomed back, politicians rode the bandwagon.
"These boys taught us what Greeks can do when we believe, when we are united and have self-confidence and dynamism," Mr Caramanlis said. "This is the best invitation to the Olympics."
It had been feared the games were heading towards disaster.
Greek hoteliers have complained of empty rooms and Fani Palli-Petralia, the minister in charge of preparations, recently said: "There should have been a designed campaign that should have started two years ago. There wasn’t."
Greece attracted 12 million visitors last year, but that figure was predicted to drop by 15 per cent this year.
A spokesman for the tourism minister, Dimitris Avramopolous, said: "The football is positive because it shows the country at its best. You can’t pay for adverts like that. The world talks about our ‘miracle’."
Nondas Pitticas, born in Athens, and one of the leaders of his community in Scotland, said: "We now have the responsibility of success. It restores pride and is unifying. It means we can no longer settle for any result."
The first beneficiary will be the games, which begin on 13 August.
"This is a chance for Greece to step out of the shadow," said Seraphim Zoupaniotis, Athens’ organising committee spokesman. He added: "The victory of the soccer team is the best promotion of Greece internationally."
Nick Tsonis, a Greek Athletic Association spokesman, said: "The victory proves we won with teamwork. After the negative publicity, there will be one last united effort to ensure the games go without a hitch."
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