Crisis-hit Greeks itches for Euro clash with Germany

Crisis-hit Greeks itches for Euro clash with Germany

GDANSK, Poland
Crisis-hit Greeks itches for Euro clash with Germany

Greek supporters will be looking for a surprise victory when their side plays Germany in a Euro 2012 quarterfinal game. AP Photo

Euro 2012 quarterfinal clash tonight will mean much more than just a game as it brings together nations at opposite ends of Europe’s debt crisis.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major contributor to international bailouts, takes on Greece, the country that has been suffering the worst of the crisis.

Germany, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been instrumental in demanding structural reforms and unpopular spending cuts in return for the financial support.

Germany coach Joachim Löw has sought to play down the wider political significance of the Gdansk match, telling reporters he is preparing his side for “a normal football contest”.

However, it is not just about the football for many people in Greece, which owes Germany billions of euros in bailout money and where Merkel is a popular hate figure seen as the chief enforcer of harsh austerity measures.

“This is how your debtors qualify, Angela get ready,” Sport Day said after Greece’s shock 1-0 win against Russia on the eve of an election that eased fears of a Greek euro exit for Greece but kept rivalry with Germany very much alive.

“Bring us Merkel,” read a headline in Goal News, while the Prasini tabloid expressed the newfound defiance with an expletive: “This is Greece, bitches!”

“For many people, this is an unofficial way of getting their own back,” said 30-year-old Marios Papageorgiou, one of millions of Greeks expected to tune in or turn out in squares with giant screens to watch the Gdansk clash. “In football, Greece and Germany are as far apart as in politics but in football everything is possible,” he said.

Ask PM about politics

Greece captain Costas Katsouranis made it clear that players were not at the tournament to talk politics. “We came here to play football and are not concerned with politics,” he said. “We are here to represent our country and we know what everyone at home is going through. We have a new prime minister, so if you have any political questions, ask him.”

However, teammate Dimitris Salpigidis said players were irritated by reports mocking Greece ahead of the game, with the country remaining heavily in debt.

“Sure we are annoyed as the comments we see on the internet and in the newspapers, because our country has problems. People have so many problems in their everyday lives,” Salpigidis said. “We’re really hoping that we can put a smile on their face.”

But asked about election advice from Merkel for Greeks, team coach Fernando Santos - from Portugal, another bailed-out economy - had a stinging reply.

“The Greek people have great pride in their history and this deserves people’s respect. Civilization, democracy and the sciences started in Greece. It is difficult for others to give us lessons,” he said on Saturday.

German tabloids have also revved up ahead of the game with a headline in Bild saying: “Poor Greeks, we’ll give you your next bankruptcy for free.”

The Berliner Kurier carried a mocked-up picture of the Greek team with “Germany” emblazoned across their shirts. The caption read: “Grateful Greeks set to show their new sponsors in the quarterfinal.”

Greece’s 2004 Euro victory was after all the work of a German coach, Otto Rehhagel, who has wished his old team the best.

 “Greece has its chances and it will certainly fight with all its strength,” he told the sports news site Sport Day. “With all its passion and competitiveness, Greece is always capable of everything.

The 1-0 win against Russia on Saturday brought thousands out in the streets waving flags and honking car horns - in sharp contrast to the electoral result which was celebrated by just 100 supporters from the winning party in Athens.