Euro 2012: ‘Captain K’ eyes record for Greece

It’s a six-second sequence Greeks remember well: Paulo Ferreira

gives the ball away, Giorgos Karagounis pushes forward, sends in a

shot from outside the area, and Ricardo is beaten.

Only seven minutes into the opening match of the 2004 European

Championship, Greece led host Portugal 1-0.

That fabled opening goal against launched Greece’s stunning

championship run – making Karagounis a crowd favorite for life.

Eight years later heading into Euro 2012, the skillful

midfielder is the team’s captain and he is approaching an all-time

appearance record of 120 matches set by 2004 teammate Theo


”It’s a real pleasure to play in the European Championship.

We’re going there to enjoy it, because our aim was to make it

there,” Karagounis said at a recent exhibition of national team

memorabilia. ”But we’re not treating this as a holiday. We’re a

good team, we have ambition, and we’ll take our chances. If we are

clear of (injury) problems we should have some good games.”

Karagounis made his debut at 22 in a friendly against El

Salvador and has been one of Greece’s most consistently selected

players through his 10 years at Panathinaikos and four at Inter

Milan and Benfica, scoring eight international goals and making 115

appearances for his country.

Good for team spirit, setting up strikers and taking dead-ball

chances, he earned a reputation as a tireless playmaker,

exemplifying the ethic instilled by 2004 coach Otto Rehhagel.

Commentators called him ”the Dude” because of his good nature,

though critics note he rarely stays on his feet when challenged for

the ball.

In Poland and Ukraine, Karagounis could level Zagorakis’ record

in the group stage because Greece has two warm-up matches lined up

this month against Slovenia and Armenia.

Most of the 2004 squad has retired, but the 35-year-old

Karagounis is showing little sign of slowing down, his hard-work

ethic and appeal to younger players having won favor with coach

Fernando Santos.

He played in all 10 of Greece’s European qualifiers, seven of

them for the full 90 minutes, as Greece remained unbeaten and

topped its group. At Euro 2012, the Greeks will face Russia, the

Czech Republic and co-host Poland in the opening round.

Like in 2004, the Greeks will open against the hosts.

”There will be 50,000 Poles watching that game … so it won’t

be easy,” Karagounis said. ”But we’ll hopefully have fans too and

we’ve proved we can take on any opponent. There are no easy teams.

Whoever we’re up against, we’ll take them on.”