In July 2004, it seemed the Greek epic had come to a close. They had surprised Portugal in the opening match and shocked France in the quarterfinal, but against the Czech team of Milan Baros and Pavel Nedved their beginner's luck had to finally run out.
But what the Czechs, and everyone else in the stadium who wasn't Greek failed to take into account, was a defender named Giourkas Seitaridis.
Greece's right back was then still at Panathinaikos under Israeli coach Yitzhak Shum, and tearing apart the Greek league. Seitaridis seemed unstoppable - helping in midfield, thwarting Baros and company with clean tackles (okay - there was one yellow card) and even helping out in attack.
After that match, in which Greece prevailed 1-0, it was clear Seitaridis needed to seek his fortunes in more lucrative leagues further afield.
The management of Portuguese powerhouse Porto, which was then champion of Europe, rushed in to sign the golden boy from Greece's Pontus region. Real Madrid soon awoke from its slumber and realized it, too, could find a spot for the player, but it was already too late.
Since then, "Giourkas the Nice," as he is known in the Greek and Spanish press, has established himself as a formidable defender at the highest levels of European soccer.
From Porto he soon found himself at Dynamo Moscow with an impressive 10 million euro contract in tow. Seitaridis' next stop was Atletico Madrid, where his price tag rose to 12 million euros. It seemed clear to everyone that Greek coach Otto Rehhagel would make him a central pillar of the national team. But on the international stage, Seitaridis' shine lost some of its luster.
The Greece of Euro 2008 looked little like the Cinderella story of the tournament four years earlier, when it shocked the soccer world with a 1-0 final upset over Portugal in Lisbon.
This time around the team looked slower, almost complacent, and even a little older.
In an interview with Haaretz, Seitaridis insists all that is about to change. "Five years is a long time, especially in soccer," he says. "We're a more experienced team, even if we've added some new faces in the past few months. I can promise you Greek soccer is again hungry to succeed."
Shum is not the only Israeli with whom Seitaridis is familiar. "Of course everyone knows [Liverpool's Yossi] Benayoun, who is Israel's engine and leading scorer. As someone who plays in Spain I also know [Dudu] Awat, the goalkeeper. You guys are doing pretty well with Dror Kashtan as coach."
Israel is in second place in its World Cup qualifying group with 8 points, just one point below Greece, the group leader, and a point ahead of Switzerland. Seitaridis appears to have been following the progress of his country's next opponent closely. "Israel hasn't lost a match yet, and has given its all in every one," he notes.
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