x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Victory can lift Greece off the floor

Greek expatriates are counting on their national team to lift the spirits of their countrymen back home who face pay cuts and tax rises.

Alex Economides, centre, with some of his fellow Greek supporters at the Elia restaurant in Dubai's Majestic Hotel.
Alex Economides, centre, with some of his fellow Greek supporters at the Elia restaurant in Dubai's Majestic Hotel.

Greek expatriates are counting on their national team to lift the spirits of their countrymen back home who face pay cuts and tax rises as their country tries to slash its budget deficit. "About the crisis, the people in Greece, they wait for this moment to forget," said Kostas Lalas, 40, a photographer in Dubai. "It is like a medicine if the team give a good moment." "Given the situation, everyone's morale is down," added Alex Economides, 30, the general manager of the Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai. "It would be a booster if we did do well in the World Cup."

The country avoided defaulting on its debt last month, after European countries and the International Monetary Fund agreed to a US$100 billion (Dh367bn) bailout package and the government cut pensions and salaries while increasing taxes. "I do feel that the players will be doubly motivated now, because they want to give the fans a present as well," said Nikos Migdalis, 27, the director of IMI Group, which designs and constructs exhibition stands.

Greece, 13th in the Fifa rankings, lost its most recent friendly match to fellow qualifiers Paraguay 2-0. However, Mr Migdalis, who has lived in the UAE for three years, believes that all bets will be off when the tournament begins. "We are a quite unpredictable team," Mr Migdalis said. "It is not good to make predictions about Greece because you know what happened in Portugal the last time." In the 2004 European Championships in Portugal, Greece stunned the hosts and were crowned champions of Europe.

But they failed to reach the 2006 World Cup, and Mr Lalas points out that the competition will be strong in the team's group. "The team is in very good condition, but the competition is very tough and this is not the European Championship," he said. "In my country we say, 'We keep the small basket.' It means we are not expecting a lot." However, if Greece gets to the second round, Mr Lalas expects the attitude to change, from not expecting much to expecting to win the tournament.

Mr Economides hopes the Greek team will go far to keep his establishment's main bar, the Barrel Pub, hopping with Greek supporters. The hotel's signature restaurant, Elia, serves Greek dishes, making the hotel popular with Greek nationals. Mr Economides said he was not a big fan of sport, but would be behind his national team throughout the tournament."It is the one time I do support my team," he said of the World Cup. "There is no other time that I do."

Mr Economides said he remembered vividly living in Greece when his country won the European Championship. "It was something that was surreal," he said. "Nothing was working during the matches, the streets were completely quiet. When we won it was kind of like we had been occupied and we just had freedom after a number of years." Vassilis Pheocharives, 34, from Cyprus, who works for the Cyprus Tourism Organisation in Dubai, will be supporting his friends. "I am from Cyprus, but we are all Greeks," he said. "I am hopeful, but it will be tough."

mchung@thenational.ae