x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Greeks dream of Euro exit for Germany

Tonight provides a chance for the Greeks to salvage a bit of pride after more than two years of what they see as painful humiliation at the hands of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Greek fans celebrate in downtown Thessaloniki after a defensive Greece held off a nearly non-stop Russian attack on Saturday.
Greek fans celebrate in downtown Thessaloniki after a defensive Greece held off a nearly non-stop Russian attack on Saturday.

BERLIN // The Greeks have a dream, and it goes like this. Germany's football stars are sitting on the pitch, holding their heads in their hands and sobbing. The vanquished Teutons look up and squint through their tears at the VIP area, where Angela Merkel, their chancellor, is failing to contain a bitter scowl.

Oh, if only. Tonight's quarter-final between Greece and the heavily favoured Germany is more, far more than just a football match.

It is a chance for the Greeks to salvage a bit of pride after more than two years of what they see as painful humiliation at the hands of Mrs Merkel. She has led demands for Athens to implement crippling austerity measures in return for European Union and International Monetary Fund bailouts of more than 240 billion euros (Dh1.1 trillion) aimed at keeping Greece in the single currency.

In a sign of how keen Mrs Merkel is to watch the match in the Polish city of Gdansk, she persuaded the leaders of France, Italy and Spain to reschedule a meeting on the euro crisis so that she could go. Her presence will add spice to the game because she has become a hate figure to many in Greece, where she has been portrayed in a Nazi uniform on protest banners and in the media.

"There are no problems between Germany and Greece. But Mrs Merkel wants to break our country," Dimitris Tzikas, 46, a Greek postman, told Bild, Germany's best-selling newspaper. "The Greek players must fight so that we can win."

Ethos, a Greek newspaper, wrote: "Greece has a plan: Euro exit for Germany on Friday." Another Greek paper, Sport Day, had the simple message: "Bring it On."

Relations between Germany and Greece have hit rock bottom during the financial crisis. A majority of Germans are sick and tired of bailing out Greece and want the country to be kicked out of the 17-nation euro zone. Many in Germany believe the Greeks should never have been allowed to join because they are too profligate and disorganised.

The symbolism of the game has not been lost on the German media, where the response has been tongue-in-cheek. Berliner Kurier, a Berlin newspaper, ran a cartoon on Tuesday showing a German government spokesman telling the media: "Our stance on Greece remaining in the euro zone depends entirely on how the quarter-final goes."

Bild, which once urged Greece to sell off its islands rather than tap German taxpayers, had this tactful comment: "Be happy dear Greeks, the defeat on Friday is a gift. Against [German coach] Jogi Löw, no rescue fund will help you."

Politicians and players in both countries have been at pains to play down any broader significance. The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, was being ludicrously diplomatic when he said: "It will be a German-Greek football party."

In truth, though, a Greek win would give the recession-plagued country a big national boost. Beating Germany would be as good as winning the tournament, which Greece did in 2004 under a German coach, Otto Rehhagel, who was credited for instilling discipline in the team's ranks.

"The most important thing for us is to bring some happiness to the Greek people, that's all, to make them celebrate in the street, given all that is going on," said the Greek midfielder Giannis Maniatis.

The Greek team has faced ridicule in the European media as a result of the crisis, with one cartoon showing a Greek player catching a euro coin flipped by the referee, and Greek players sporting jerseys featuring the German eagle - their supposed sponsors.

While no one can doubt the qualities of the German team, many people across Europe, especially in ailing countries that are tired of Mrs Merkel's austerity mantra, would find it hard to contain a bit of Schadenfreude if Greece managed to knock them out. One group of fans from Ireland, which itself had to be bailed out by the EU and IMF in 2010, expressed their feelings about the German leader when they displayed a banner that said: "Angela Merkel thinks we are working."

It is a sentiment Germans find hard to understand, given the hundreds of billions of euros they have committed to various bailout funds.

The Greeks may well be disappointed. Germany are famous for strong performances tournaments, and finished top of their group with three convincing wins.

In Germany, football is akin to a science, and the national team is always expected to do well. Tournaments are meticulously prepared for and Löw, the bundestrainer or federal coach, commands nationwide respect. Besides, the team will have what some players call its lucky charm tonight - Mrs Merkel.

Known for her coolness and reserve, she can get emotional during international football matches, when she has been known to punch the air, cheer and beam. If she does not, the Greeks will be dancing in the streets on Friday night.


For sports coverage on Euro 2012, click here.