CRISTIANO RONALDO was left inconsolable and in floods of tears. Ricardo Carvalho slumped on the turf. Even the great Luis Figo didn’t know where to look. Takis Fyssas and Greece had outwitted Portugal’s superstars and stunned the football world by winning the 2004 European Championship.
Yet beating tiny Gretna in the Scottish Cup final with Hearts two years later brought Fyssas the same sense of achievement; the same exhilarating feeling. Both medals carry comparable prestige for the classy full-back. Winning is winning, at the end of the day, and Fyssas was a born winner.
Euro 2004 was his international pinnacle as Greece upset the odds to defeat a Portugal team dripping with household names: Ronaldo, Carvalho and Figo led a side also containing Deco, Maniche, Costinha, Pauleta and Nuno Valente. As if to emphasise their stack of Iberian stars, Manuel Rui Costa, Nuno Gomes and Paulo Ferreira came off the bench during the final, as instructed by their legendary coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari. Fyssas wasn’t intimidated. Neither were any of his compatriots. Greece triumphed through Angelos Charisteas’ header and became national heroes in an instant.
Fyssas doesn’t differentiate between winning Euro 2004 and lifting the Scottish Cup with Hearts. To him, the accolades are equal. He arrived in Scotland in 2005 seeking to deliver silverware on the back of Vladimir Romanov’s heavy investment. Success came in his first season with a Scottish Cup final win over then Second Division Gretna at Hampden. Gavin Skelton, James Grady and Kenny Deuchar may not hold the same appeal as Ronaldo, Figo or Deco, but beating them was just as satisfying for Fyssas.
“When Greece won Euro 2004, it was a miracle. No-one expected us to win,” he recalled. “It was a fantastic moment which brought all of Greece together and my memories are amazing. I can never forget this. It’s the biggest success any Greek player has ever had and I believe it will never happen again. I am the sort of guy who is excited and waiting all the time for the next target. My next trophy after that was with Hearts and it was a fantastic moment.
“I was just as happy as I was winning Euro 2004. It was just the same for me. I wanted to give something to the Hearts people from the first moment I arrived. I wanted to give it to the president, all the employees at the club and all the fans. I wanted to give them my respect by winning something. I would not say I was more happy winning in 2004 than I was in 2006. Logically, every person can understand that 2004 was a dream. It’s not a league championship or a cup, it’s your country and you are a national hero. I am more proud for that reason.”
Duty to his country prevents Fyssas from returning to Hampden this weekend, when Hearts meet Hibs in a Scottish Cup final Edinburgh has dreamed of for 116 years. He is busy preparing for another European Championship with Greece, this time as technical director.
“We have to make a decision on our squad this weekend so, although I wanted to be at the final, I can’t,” he explained.
“Hearts is in my heart and I am very happy for everyone there. It is six years since they were in the final but this time it’s against Hibs. What a final. It’s a derby so you cannot predict it. In the 2006 final, Gretna were in the Second Division but the game went to penalties. Nothing is certain in football. I’m sure the Hearts players are delighted to play in this final. It’s like a fiesta.
“In big games like this, the big players have to show their quality. All season Hearts have been the better team than Hibs, there is no doubt about that. But you cannot believe you will win in a cup final just because you have been better. It is 90 minutes and you must play crazy, with all the power you have.
“I want the Hearts players to be legends like us in 2006 but you can only think about this after the game. If they show their quality, I’m sure Hearts will take the cup. But they must feel everything involved with this game and they must feel what the fans feel. If they don’t, then afterwards they are going to be very disappointed.”
He has, of course, already experienced the high of beating Hibs at Hampden. “This game will be even bigger than the semi-final in 2006 because it’s a final. That semi-final was a fantastic feeling. It was not just a victory, it was a great victory with a four-goal difference. We showed our quality that season and we were one of the best teams in Scotland. We were very proud of ourselves. But we still had the cup final to play. We didn’t sit back and think, ‘okay, we beat Hibs so we already have the cup’. We were very professional and we worked hard to win the cup. It was a fantastic moment for us and for me personally.
“It’s nice for me to have these memories from a fantastic season in 2006, but the Hearts players deserve praise for what they have done this season. They have put in tremendous effort and they have shown they can do much more for Hearts. Now they are in the final and we have to support them and give them motivation to show we believe in them. We cannot think about old guys. This is the present and we are all Hearts fans so we are all with them.”