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Soccer is the most popular sport in Greece, even though Greeks have more success in basketball or waterpolo (on both international and club level), and winning the 2004 UEFA European Championship title additionally contributed to its popularity.
Did the Ancient Greeks Play Soccer?
Actually, they did, but it was much different and it was not called soccer.The Ancient Greeks, founders of Western culture, were responsible for inventing many things, among which was also a ball game called Episkyros or Phaindina. It was commonly played by Spartan warriors and it was used as a part of military training with a dose of fun. It didn’t have many rules, but a key task was to pass the ball over the white line on the ground and to stop the opponent from doing the same. This game had some soccer, but also rugby elements.
Modern History of Soccer in Greece
Modern soccer came to Greece with English inhabitants. First soccer clubs were established in the early years of the 20th century, as a part of already existing sporting communities in the major cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as by Greek refugees from Turkish cities of Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir). However, the first official competition, called the Panhellenic Championship, started in 1927.
The 2004 UEFA European Championship
On the international level, Greece was far from being a successful soccer nation during the 20th Century. After 64 years and 14 World Cups without appearances, the first time they qualified was for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. After that they did it two more times and their biggest success was entering the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The highest point in Greek soccer history was a totally surprising title of the UEFA European Championship, achieved in 2004, in Portugal. Even the most optimistic Greek fans couldn’t imagine their national squad would conquer Europe, especially knowing they are in Group A, together with Portugal, Spain and Russia. However, at the Championship opening they surprised Portugal with a 1:0 victory.
After that they took a point against Spain (1:1) and lost against Russia (2:1), which was enough to reach the Quarter-finals as a second-placed team. In this round they met another powerhouse – France and again won 1:0, reaching the Semi-finals and earning another minimal victory (1:0) against Czech Republic thanks to Traianos Dellas’ goal in extra time. In the UEFA Euro 2004 final their opponent was the tournament host and the same rival from the opening game – Portugal.
Greek squad was playing the same way they did through the tournament – defending and waiting for a rare chance, while Portugal was dominant in ball possession. The game was decided by Angelos Charisteas’ header in the second half. Interestingly, before 2004, they qualified for the European Championship only once, back in 1960. Before the start of the tournament, Greece was given a 150-1 chance to celebrate the title.
Who are the Best Soccer Teams in Greece?
3. AEK Athens
The club was founded in 1924 by the group of Greek refugees who had to leave Constantinople after the Greco-Turkish war. AEK’s colors (black and yellow) and logo (double-headed eagle) represent the Greek Orhtodox Church and the Byzantine Empire. Club is considered as one of the most successful Greek clubs, with 12 Greek Championship and 15 Greek Cup titles, and has produced some of the best Greek players of all time.
Being the most successful in terms of European competitions, Panathinaikos is the only Greek club that appeared in the European Cup final in 1971. Since the UEFA Champions League was established, PAO has reached the quarter-finals twice. However, they remained the second most popular and the second most successful club in Greece with 20 Greek Championship and 19 Greek Cup titles.
When founded in 1925, Olympiakos was suposed to revoke ancient Greece by the means of its name and the logo, which symbolized the Olympic athlete. The club is settled in the port of Piraeus, part of Athens’ coastline. In almost 100 years of existence, Olympiakos became the most successful club in Greece with 47 Greek Championship and 28 Greek Cup titles. Popularity of this club in the homeland, but also in the large Greek diaspora around the World is amazing, with over 98.000 paying members.
Who are the Best Greek Soccer Player Ever?
Kostas Nestoridis (1948-1968)
Set pieces specialist has scored 17 goals directly from corner kicks during his career. He was the most responsible for AEK’s golden era, scoring 172 goals in 11 years.
Mimis Papaioannou (1960-1982)
IFFHS claimed Papaioannou the Greek football player of the 20th Century. He had an iconic status in AEK, whose officials refused his record fee transfer to Real Madrid being afraid of fans’ reaction.
Thomas Mavros (1970-1991)
Nicknamed “the God”, Mavros became the legend of AEK and the player who scored the most goals in the Greek Championship – 260.
Stelios Manolas (1979-1998)
The best Greek center back ever. He spent his whole career at AEK, winning 10 trophies and being the second most capped player for the Athenian club.
Antonios Nikopolidis (1987-2011)
Nikopolids wasn’t an ordinary goalkeeper. His disadvantage in the air due to his height, caused certain problems and mistakes during his career, but he made key saves in key matches for his clubs and Greek national squad.
Theodoros Zagorakis (1988-2007)
The Greek captain in Euro 2004 and the man of the match in the final game against Portugal is the second most capped player in the history of the national team.
Vasilios Tsiartas (1989-2007)
An attacking midfielder with world-class passing skills spent the most of his career in AEK Athens, but was also a key player and considered one of the best playmakers ever in Sevilla.
Georgios Karagkounis (1996-2014)
The Greek player with the most appearances for the national squad was one of key figures in the Euro 2004 title. He was an excellent free kick taker and had great dribbling skills.
Despite being the favorite national sport, Greek soccer is still far from top level. Clubs have a lot of financial and infrastructural problems, while the national squad didn’t use the hype after winning the Euro 2004. However, a blazing passion for soccer fills every part of Greek society and derby games between rival clubs are a must visit attraction for all truth soccer lovers.