Greek god of winning (boring) football

Martin Rogers

Back in ancient times, the Greeks placed great stock in philosophy and beauty.

Greece's current top hero fits only half that profile.

Otto Rehhagel is a football mastermind. Greece's German-born head coach took one of Euro 2004's biggest long shots on a dramatic journey to the title, and the epic upset earned him an offer of Greek citizenship, the nickname "King Otto" and an eternal place in his adopted home's sporting folklore.

The manner in which the Greeks shocked European football was not for the purists, though. Rehhagel employed a systematic, defensive-minded formula that, while being far from easy on the eyes, was effective, as Greece rode 1-0 wins over France, Czech Republic and Portugal in the knockout stages to the European crown.

If the Greeks progress into the latter stages of the Euros again, it won't be pretty.

Even though Greece won 10 of its 12 qualifying games against the toughest sides in Europe and amassed an impressive 31 points, its main objective is to keep things tight at the back. Rehhagel likes to pack his team's backline with big, ugly, hard-hitting defenders, and he has three towering monsters in Traianos Dellas, Paraskevas Antzas and Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

"The most important thing is all my boys are fit and ready to play," said Rehhagel, 69, who refused to give details about his plan for Tuesday's opener against Sweden. "That’s all that matters."

Four years ago, Greece was a 100-1 shot and widely considered to be one of the weakest teams, but it stunned the football world by beating hosts Portugal on opening night. The incredible championship run hasn't earned the Greeks more respect, though, dismissed by many as one of the freak occurrences that happen in this tournament.

The result did not send Europe's biggest clubs pursuing Greece's top players with huge transfer offers, either. Angelos Charisteas, scorer of the winning goal in the final against Portugal, secured the most significant move – a 5 million Euro switch to Dutch side Ajax, where he was promptly installed as the fifth-choice striker.

This time, Greece has some attacking firepower, even if Rehhagel's system restricts offensive freedom. Giorgos Karagounis is a quality midfielder and Georgios Samaras is capable of occasional glimpses of inspiration, although he is unpredictable and inconsistent.

On the eve of its title defense, Greece was rated the 11th-best favorite with bookies at around 50-to-1. Back home, Rehhagel's disciples are hopeful, if not overconfident.

"It is true that we have a very good relationship with the people because of what was achieved in 2004," Rehhagel said. "But I will never take that for granted and more than anything I want to bring more success to this country."