things turn out in this most unexpected of European Championship finals, the
night will end with at least a couple of pieces of history being made.
Regardless of whether it is in Portugal or
Greece that a night of raucous celebration is getting underway, deep in the
bowels of the beautifully reconstructed Stadium of Light the name of a new
country will be inscribed on the Henri Delaunay trophy.
The Soviet Union (1960), Spain (1964), Italy
(1968), West Germany (1972, 1980, 1996 as Germany), Czechoslovakia (1976),
France (1984, 2000), the Netherlands (1988) and Denmark (1992) are already there.
Whether it is the hosts or Greece who join them
will depend on the work of two men who, beyond the occasional holiday, had
virtually no contact with the two countries when the last Euro finals were being
played four years ago.
Greece's German coach Otto Rehhagel and Luiz
Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian in charge of Portugal, are engaged in their own
private battle to become the first foreigner to mastermind the capture of
Europe's biggest prize.
For both of them, the rewards for victory will
extend beyond the eternal gratitude of their adopted nations.
In Rehhagel's case, it could be his ticket back
to Germany as the successor to Rudi Voller, who stepped down as coach of the
national team in the wake of their first round exit here.
For Scolari, the man who led Brazil to their
fifth World Cup in Japan and South Korea two years ago, there is the prospect of
becoming the first man to lift world and European titles with different
countries, substantially enhancing his coaching credentials in the process.
Those who suggest that coaching Brazil is simply
a matter of making sure Ronaldo and co. get on the team bus with a full set of
matching socks will have difficulty sustaining their argument if Scolari does
deliver Portugal's first major international trophy.
It is for that reason that Scolari admits that
winning on Sunday would mean even more to him than his triumph in Yokohama two
"Brazil had already won four World Cups," he
said. "Portugal have never even reached a final before, so I think this is more
important, for my CV certainly."
On paper, Scolari's future job prospects should
be enhanced by a Portugal victory.
The Portugal that outclassed the Netherlands in
the semi-final was a considerably more threatening animal than the one that
tamely surrendered to the Greeks in a 2-1 defeat in the opening match.
With every match they have played here,
Scolari's side have got stronger while, for all their admirable work-rate and
organisation, Rehhagel's side have also enjoyed more than their fair share of
luck on their way to the final.
After squeezing through their group by the
narrowest of margins, Greece were fortunate to come up against an almost
unbelievably listless France in their quarter-final.
The pattern of their extra-time victory over the
Czech Republic in Thursday's semi-final would also surely have been different if
Pavel Nedved had not been forced from the field in the first half, at a time
when the Czechs had the Greeks on the rack.
Rehhagel deservedly took much of the credit for
both the quarter and semi-final wins after getting his tactics exactly right,
most notably by deploying man markers to nullify the threat posed by France's
Thierry Henry and the Czech danger man Milan Baros.
It is not however a trick that will be easily
repeated against Portugal, whose attacking threat depends largely on the ability
of their wingers to go past defenders with the ball. No marker, no matter how
good their concentration, is likely to stop Luis Figo or Cristiano Ronaldo for a
full 90 minutes.
Portugal will almost certainly have their
chances. The key to realising the country's long cherished dream of victory is
likely to be whether they can take them.