Greece Euro 2012 Focus – When politics and football mix

There will be fewer games at UEFA EURO 2012 that bear more political meaning than Greece’s meeting with Germany. With both countries deeply connected through the Greek debt crisis off the pitch, there is plenty of hostility expected between the two sets of supporters when the quarter-final round pits Greece against overwhelming favourites Germany in Gdansk, Poland on Friday. Peter Katsiris from Greek football blog Football Hellas takes a deeper look at a huge game both on and off the pitch tonight.

There is a saying, “politics and sport should not mix.” It’s the unwritten rule of sport, with no exception for football. However, when it comes to Greece’s quarter-final clash with Germany on Friday, an exception might need to be made as there is no doubt that politics will be one of the hot topics between the two sets of supporters.

The animosity that has emerged between Germans and Greeks over the latter’s financial struggles reached a new level when it was revealed that the pair of countries will meet in the quarter-final round – just days after the latest Greek election in which a pro-bailout and in turn a pro-European Union candidate, Antonis Samaras of the Nea Dimokratia, was elected as Prime Minister.

Despite the decision for Greeks to ultimately vote for Samaras and his pro-bailout party, there is still plenty of anger directed towards not only the Greek government but also Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel – the leading figure in the imposition of strict austerity measures on Greece.

Despite her unpopularity amongst Greeks, Merkel will be attending the match as she hopes to continue her lucky streak with the German National Team. Merkel’s presence will certainly add to the hostile environment inside the ground as Greek fans are already expected to be vocal after what a has been a brutal week of jabs from German tabloids poking fun at the current living conditions in Greece.

Coming in as heavy-underdogs, Greece’s players have shown the utmost respect for their opponents, even if the German media hasn’t returned same. Players like Kostas Katsouranis, a player with a big role to fill in the absence of the suspended captain Giorgos Karagounis, spoke about playing for the Greek shirt, flag and people. The Greek pride factor is something the Greek media is also hoping will trump the Germans as it seems that football is once again being used to settle political indifferences.

Add to the fact that an icon of Greek football, Alketas Panagoulias, passed away at age 78 earlier this week, and there is plenty of emotion heading into this game. Certainly the Greeks, even as underdogs, will want to secure a win not to spite Merkel and the Germans but instead to honour the late Panagoulias, who was the manager to guide Greece to its first European Championships in 1980 and the FIFA World Cup in 1994.

Indeed it will be football that is played in Gdansk, and not a clash of politics. Greece manager Fernando Santos will need to improvise in the absence of Karagounis, the scorer to help Greece qualify for the quarter-finals with a 1-0 defeat of Russia. Katsouranis is expected to feature in the skipper’s regular place, but will have defensive responsibilities as his top priority. Giannis Maniatis, also a starter against Russia, is expected to partner-up with Grigoris Makos in a holding position just in front of the Greek defense, which is marshalled by two Bundesliga center-backs: Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kyriakos Papadopoulos.

In attack, Greece will need to be efficient with their opportunities. The Germans are expected to hold most of the possession on Friday night, thus meaning that the likes of expected starters, Giorgos Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis, will need to take their chances and not be wasteful.

If Greece can nick a result against Germany and send the tournament favourites home early, then surely Greeks everywhere will be able afford to a smile amidst all the turmoil in the homeland. While beating the Germans won’t be an easy task, the Ethniki will certainly be up for the challenge as playing for the Greek people has been an inspiring factor before.

In 2004, a summer of massive pressure on the Greek government ahead of the Athens Olympics and with all odds stack against the National Team, Greece ousted teams like France, the Czech Republic and Portugal en route to claiming continental honours in Lisbon – turning what appeared to be the summer destined for embarrassment to the ‘Summer of Greece.’

Replicating the feat of reaching the podium in Kyiv on 1 July might be an unfair ask of Greece, but there’s absolutely no doubt that Santos’ men will be keen on putting a smile on the faces of all Greeks starting with a win over Germany.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Germany v Greece


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