Yesterday's eruption in Greektown

July 02, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

ELLAS!

ELLAS!

ELLAS!

GREECE!

GREECE!

GREECE!

Nobody spoke without exclamation points yesterday afternoon in Greektown.

A 28-year-old defender on the Greek national team headed a soccer ball past the Czech Republic's goaltender late yesterday afternoon in a stadium in Portugal and ignited a celebration that erupted out of the bars and coffeehouses onto the streets of Greektown.

And no doubt in Greek communities around the world.

Blue-and-white Greek flags blossomed like cornflowers on Eastern Avenue, Greektown's main drag, and chanting fans waved Fourth of July sparklers in a celebration that will probably continue until Sunday when Greece plays Portugal in the final game of the European Championship.

"This is Greece. This is family. This is the world," shouted Gus Fotinos, 25, as he waved a Greek flag like a bullfighter's cape in front of traffic. "I drove all the way down from Pennsylvania to watch this game with these Greeks."

Never before

Greece had never even reached the semifinals of a major tournament before.

George Anagnostou, one of the proprietors of the Olympia coffeeshop in the middle of the 4700 block of Eastern Ave., said, "Greece writes history again. This is the place to be. There's going to be a big, big party."

He declared Greece has 12 new gods: the 11 players on the Greek team and their German coach.

The Olympia, a hole in the wall with an oldtime embossed tin ceiling and photos of Greek islands and old soccer teams, was packed with people sighing, shouting, applauding and perhaps praying through the 106 minutes of a game that went into overtime after the regulation game ended without a score. The archbishop of the Greek Orthodox church in Athens had, in fact, blessed the team.

The fans rose in one great cheering, lunging leap when Traianos Dellas, a Greek middle defender, flicked a corner kick into the Czech goal. They came down hugging, back-slapping, hand-shaking, cheering.

Wearing a headband lettered ELLAS, George Bakoulas, who plays soccer for UMBC, popped out of the jammed Zorba's Bar and Grill like a cork from a bottle: "We played an excellent second half. We held on until we finished them."

Halftime

At halftime in Zorba's, with the sound level at about a zillion decibels, Bakoulas, a forward on the UMBC team. said: "Our goalkeeper [Antonios Nikopolidis] had two good saves. He's the key to our defense."

Greece was known as a defensive team. It was the underdog going into the game yesterday. The Czech team had won all its games in the Euro 2004 tournament, and it had the single highest scorer.

"We finally got a chance to show everybody we can play," Bakoulas said. He recalled how Greece beat the powerful French team, the reigning European champions, to get to the semifinal game with the Czechs.

"Beating the French was one of our best accomplishments ever," Bakoulas said. "Nobody thought it could be done."

Not everybody in the Olympia coffeeshop was Greek. Shabah Saeed, a 30-year-old waiter from Morocco who works at the Acropolis restaurant, loves soccer and cheered for the Greek team.

"It's a good match," he said at half-time when the score was zero-zero. "Greece is a well-organized team. They have a good chance to win even though the Czechs are good, too."

After the game, Saeed was out on Eastern Avenue with everyone else, laughing and shouting and cheering.

"I told you they would get the win," he said, with perfect hindsight.

Early on, Gus Panagotimos, a 45-year-old cabinetmaker, thought the game could go either way.

"We play tough," he said. "It'll be a close game. It's going to come down to the last minute, and my heart will not be taking it."

But Panagotimos survived, and he said: "All Greece is going crazy. I wish I was there."

Peter Athanassiou, 54, a contractor born on the island of Crete, said, "It's a historical thing. This is the first time Greece has come so far.

"It's an exciting game," he said, excitedly.

Out on the street, wearing the blue and white Greek colors on a hat about three sizes too large, 9-year-old Chris Procopou pretty much summed up everybody's feeling in Greektown: "We're the best team. We're going to win the whole thing."

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