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01/07/2004

Dabizas looks on in wonder at Greeks

While most Greeks have celebrated their progress to the Euro 2004 semi-finals with abandon, for Nikos Dabizas, it has also been a time for reflection.

Precisely a year before Greece's opening-day victory over hosts Portugal, the defender was hospitalised with a badly broken arm after driving his car into a traffic-light in Athens. "I had real mixed emotions," he said on Wednesday. "It's unbelievable how much things can change in football and in life. I'm lucky to be here.

"After the crash I thought I might be finished as a footballer. I started to think people [in the hospital] weren't telling me anything because it would be something I didn't want to hear. When you don't know what's happening, you fear the worst. I couldn't stop thinking about it in the game against Portugal as I was sitting on the bench. All I could picture was the hospital and where I was a year ago.

"Now I look at it as a positive experience and I hope people who have suffered in a similar way can draw strength from what I've achieved. These situations can only make you stronger. It's at times like that you prove what kind of character you really are. You either collapse or grow stronger."

Stronger he may be, but that does not alleviate his frustration at his perpetual place on the Greece bench, for all the fine form of the incumbent centre-backs Traianos Dellas and Michalis Kapsis. "Whoever says they don't mind being a sub in this situation is a liar," he explained. "I can't say that I've enjoyed sitting through games, but I have been with my team-mates all the way. As a Greek I'm very proud of my nation."

And with due reason. With Spain, Italy, Germany, England and France all suffering premature exits, Euro 2004 has become a bonfire of the vanities, and nobody has fanned the flames so effectively as the Greeks.

They have done nothing spectacular, but as the stars of other sides have flickered, their application and organisation, and the tactical astuteness of their coach Otto Rehhagel (deputing the right-back Giorgios Seitaridis to man-mark Thierry Henry in the win over France was a masterstroke) has been enough to drive them to the last four.

Nobody doubts that the in-form Czechs - nine successive competitive victories with at least two goals in each - will be their hardest challenge yet, but whatever happens tonight Greece have had a remarkable tournament. "We've shown people that we can produce the goods on the pitch and not just on the beach," Dabizas said. "For the first time people know Greece as something other than a place where you go on holiday."


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232 Appearances in England (175 for Newcastle United, 18 for Leicester in the Premier League and 39 for Leicester in the Championship). Total League-Cup-Europe appearances 550. National Team appearances 70. Goals total 40.