03 July, 2004
Greece's political leaders on Friday lavished praise on the country's national soccer team for its surprise 1-0 defeat of leading contender Czech Republic in the Euro 2004 championship in Portugal Thursday night, sending it into the final against Portugal on Sunday, while the city of Athens is preparing a hero's welcome for the players and the prime minister is packing his bags to join the more than 10,000 Greeks in Lisbon who will be cheering on the team.
President of the Republic Costis Stephanopoulos sent the team a congratulatory telegram, thanking the players and their coach "for the joy you gave all of us".
"Our wishes are with you for Sunday's final, and I await to congratulate you in person upon your return," the President said.
Prime minister Costas Karamanlis, who also holds the culture ministry portfolio, said that the Greek national soccer team "is already the Cup-holder in our hearts", adding that he would be at their side in Sunday's final.
"Our team, the team of all the Greeks, today made the dream a reality. It proved that when there is faith, method and collective effort, everything is possible," the premier said after the semi-final against the Czech team, and congratulated the players and their coach, Otto Rehhagel, and all the contributors to "this historic success".
Alternate culture minister Fani Palli-Petralia, who has been in Portugal since the opening match of the championship -- again between Greece and Portugal -- to cheer the Greek team on its first-ever qualification for a major soccer tournament, said that the national team players had once again put all their soul into the match, and "there are no words to describe the sentiments we feel" nor "our gratitude to the players, coach and other contributors to this new, magnificent achievement".
Deputy culture minister for sports George Orfanos, who was also in Portugal for the semi-final with the Czech Republic, said that the national team's "triumph reflects the immense effort of the players and their coach, but also the inner strength they proved they have".
Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou spoke of an "unbelievable success", adding "we will be at the side of our national team in the big final of the European championship".
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) secretary general Aleka Papariga also sent her congratulations to the team, praising them for their method and fighting spirit.
Coalition of the Left (SYN) leader Nikos Constantopoulos, in a similar telegram, said the team had "honored the confidence of our society with your hard work...we take pride in you because you gave our people such deep joy, which it needed".
Congratulations were also forthcoming from Orthodox Church leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, Arch-bishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece, Patriarch Eirinaios of Jerusalem, and Patriarch Petros of Alexandria, among others, who expressed pride in the team's achievement and blessings for Sunday's final.
Source: Athens News Agency