WROCLAW, Poland (AP) – It's been an impossible burden to carry for eight years: How could Greece's players live up the country's stunning European Championship win in 2004?
Fernando Santos says they no longer have to.
Greece begins its first major championship under the Portuguese coach on Friday, taking on co-host Poland in the opening match of the tournament. And comparisons with 2004, while fading, are still hard to avoid. Especially because the Greeks beat their hosts in Portugal in the opener eight years ago under Otto Rehhagel.
''I have a different team ... I didn't replace Mr. Rehhagel in 2004 but in 2010,'' the 56-year-old Santos said. ''Mr. Rehhagel wrote a golden page in Greek football history. And he got Greece to three major tournaments. But every coach has his own methods. Everyone must respect that Mr. Rehhagel had his own philosophy and I have mine. So comparisons are pointless.''
Nine members of Greece's 23-man squad were still at school in 2004, and the current squad technically has three champion survivors: Captain Giorgos Karagounis, midfielder Costas Katsouranis, and goalkeeper Costas Chalkias, who got no playing time eight years ago.
Today's squad, according to Santos, has retained one characteristic of that winning side, it's passion.
''We will play with passion and determination,'' Santos said. ''I'm very proud to be here. No one feels more Greek at this moment than me. And everything in my being is for Greece's success.
''I think we have always has respect for our opponents, and that is a way of being realistic and the only way to be successful. But as they say in my country: Anyone who is afraid can buy a dog.''
Greece has found it hard to find its footing after its success in Portugal. It lost its first competitive match after the tournament to Albania 2-1, plummeted out of its group with three losses at Euro 2008, while fairing slightly better two years later with a single win and two defeats at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Karagounis, with 117 appearances and closing in on a Greek record, scored the first goal for the 2-1 win over Portugal in the 2004 tournament opener. He said the fortune of that game was unlikely to be carried over.
''It's always difficult to play the host,'' Karagounis said. ''I wish it's the same result as eight years ago, but it'll be very difficult. The Poles are hard to read because they have only been playing friendly matches for the past two years.
''People say that there'll be pressure on the Poles. But I wish we had that kind of pressure - playing in Athens in front of 70,000 of our own fans.''